Lonnie Hutchinson talks to Lara Strongman about her new billboard work, commissioned for the Gallery’s Gloucester Street façade.
Lonnie Hutchinson Hoa Kōhine (Girlfriend) 2018. Digital print. Collection of the artist, commissioned by Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū 2018

Lonnie Hutchinson Hoa Kōhine (Girlfriend) 2018. Digital print. Collection of the artist, commissioned by Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū 2018

Lara Strongman: Why did you call this work Hoa Kōhine (Girlfriend)?

Lonnie Hutchinson: The work is very feminine in nature. Because it’s the 125 year celebration of women’s suffrage in Aotearoa this year, I wanted to refer to women, and to the friendship between women. “Girlfriend” is what women friends call each other, in an affectionate sort of way. Hey girlfriend! And in a text we’ll use gf.

LS: What’s the background to this work?

LH: It relates to most of the work that I make, in that the original motifs are cutouts. Then they’re scanned and digitised, and then I can start having some fun playing around with them. I have quite a large vector library, from all the work that I’ve made. I also have a cutout on the wall of my studio from Kahu Matarau, the cloak work I made for the Ministry of Justice. It’s on the outside of the building, and the billboard is on the outside of the Gallery building. I thought it would be nice if they could have a conversation of sorts.

I took the cutout panel I used in that work – the vector – and then I repeated it into a kind of a flower form. I was thinking of lace curtains. I read that when the first European settlers came to Christchurch over the Port Hills from Lyttelton they brought window glass with them – and some of the women brought lace curtains. A guy wouldn’t do that, it’s a female sort of thing to do, to bring a piece of home with you. In terms of Māoridom, craft practices like tāniko and muka are very similar in that the designs are very fine. Māori were also very drawn to lace fabric when it was imported.

LS: You were born and raised in Auckland, but you always feel like a person from Christchurch. We’re claiming you anyway! What is your relationship with Christchurch?

LH: I whakapapa to Kāi Tahu on my father’s side, so it’s in my bones, let’s put it that way. But specifically, I whakapapa to Kaikoura. To the north of Ōtautahi. When my son Leigh was a baby, I took him down to Christchurch because some of my Samoan family were living there, and I just kept going back and forwards. Since then I’ve developed relationships in the iwi. The funny thing was, my cousins who I used to stay with knew everyone in the tribe anyway. But I wasn’t making art then. I was being a mother, and working part-time at various jobs.

LS: I think you originally trained as a pattern cutter, didn’t you?

LH: Yes, that was my first job. I was in the sixth form. I walked into Early Bird Fashions and I got a job just like that. No CVs or anything! They trained me. I got a little job in the design room – my first year was unpicking samples from overseas.

LS: Later on you transferred the creative skills you gained as a pattern cutter to being an artist.

LH: I was always a drawer. My father was a very good drawer too. He used to make scenes out of little bits of native wood, like a fox hunt. And he used to do embroidery as well. My nana was a big knitter, and my mother was very good on the sewing machine. I grew up sewing. I made all my own clothes, so I was quite confident going into fashion. That was my first job, but I had quite a few jobs. I was a farmer for a while. My ex-husband and I went share milking to make some money. But I still kept drawing right through. I used to draw my baby, the farm, people in the family – I was always drawing. And then an opportunity came up. I was working for a screen printer, putting graphics together, and we used to hand-cut them on the lightbox in those days. Then the firm I was working for put me forward for the New Zealand screen-printing awards, and I won! Someone left a note at the exhibition, at the Aotea Centre, an interior design lecturer from Unitec, and that’s how I got into tertiary education. I ended up studying under Warren Viscoe. He was fantastic.

LS: How do you see the relationship of cutting to drawing?

LH: It’s kind of the same. You’re drawing with the blade. Except that it is also a bit like sculpture – you’re cutting, and once you’ve removed it you can’t put it back. You can’t rub it out. When I’m designing my work, I draw it first. Some things don’t work because the lines are too thin and you’ve got to thicken them up, or look at other ways of doing it. Cut-outs are quite mathematical. You’ve got to think about the weight of the paper. You don’t want to cut too much out or they become weak. If I want to make them figurative, I found I have to use more crosshatching to build strength into the negative spaces. You don’t have to worry about these things when you’re designing something that is 2D, for paper. There’s more freedom in it.

LS: Do you still cut your works by hand?

LH: Yes. It’s been suggested to me that, with the advances in technology, I should get them computer cut. But it’s not the same. You don’t get the artist’s hand in there. Not all my lines are straight.

LS: They’re very labour intensive.

LH: Yes, but you just get into the rhythm. Sometimes – I call it the factory – that’s when the factory starts. Having a talking book on is quite good for me. You get into the story, and you cut. It takes a while. It is quite labour-intensive; and I do have to watch it. I don’t cut for any longer than four hours anymore, or I start getting blisters up my forefinger.

Girlfriend section
Appeared in

28 August 2018

Lara Strongman

Senior Curator

Lara leads the Gallery's curatorial team. She is an art historian with expertise in contemporary art. Her current research interests include contemporary photography, issues in public art, and art's response to situations of crisis. She writes on the relationship of art to the wider culture, and reviews television for Radio New Zealand. Lara's essay on the Christchurch earthquakes, 'A Song from Under The Floorboards', was included in the Auckland University Press anthology of great New Zealand nonfiction, Tell You What: 2015.


Lonnie Hutchinson: Hoa Kōhine (Girlfriend)

Lonnie Hutchinson: Hoa Kōhine (Girlfriend)

Lonnie Hutchinson’s intricately cut-out billboard celebrates supportive friendships between womenLonnie Hutchinson’s intricately cut-out billboard celebrates supportive friendships between women

Lonnie Hutchinson Sista7

The Seven Sisters are prominent peaks on the undulating wall of the volcanic crater that forms Lyttelton Harbour. This wall – a geographical feature known generically as a ‘caldera’ because of its resemblance to a Spanish cauldron, or cooking pot – dominated the view from the studio in which Lonnie Hutchinson worked when she made this work. Sista7 is Hutchinson’s personal response to the mass and grandeur of this natural landscape – ‘my story, my myth’. Cut from building paper, the delicate, interlaced patterns envelop the ancient and solid mountain forms like mists. (Brought to Light, November 2009)

The dimensions given here are for one of this work's seven individual parts. The spacing between each part, and thus the width of the entire work, can vary. In this image from the exhibition Te Puāwai o Ngāi Tahu (10 May – 24 August 2003), the parts are installed 300mm apart.

Bringing the Soul

Bringing the Soul

As an eleven-year-old boy from Whāngarei, sent to live in Yaldhurst with my aunt in the late seventies, Christchurch was a culture shock. Arriving in New Zealand’s quintessential ‘English city’, I remember well the wide landscapes and manicured colonial built environment. It was very pretty but also very monocultural, with no physical evidence of current or former Māori occupation or cultural presence, or at least none that I could appreciate at that time.

A Perspective on Pacific Art in Christchurch

A Perspective on Pacific Art in Christchurch

Pacific art is one of the more internationally successful and innovative sectors of New Zealand’s art industry, but Pacific artists in Ōtautahi have struggled to be a visible part of the city’s cultural landscape. Due to our small population and distance from the Pacific art capital that is Auckland, our artists have often developed in relative isolation, relying on our Pasifika arts community to maintain a sense of cultural vitality, belonging and place within the city.

My Favourite
Lonnie Hutchinson's sista7

Lonnie Hutchinson's sista7

I am writing about a favourite piece from the Gallery’s collection in autumn 2015, when that collection is in storage and the Gallery is closed at least until Christmas, so I’m prompting memory by consulting the online catalogue. It’s brilliant: hundreds of images, 90 percent of the entire 7,000 collection, but to be honest, it feels a bit odd.