Love always

Art and Erin O’Malley go way back, and she’s never stopped keeping the faith.

“I’ve always painted,” says Erin O’Malley, artist, interior designer and owner of Auckland store Madder & Rouge. “I remember using my school paints to paint all the inbuilt drawers in my bedroom; I painted my parents’ antique roll-top desk; I painted clothes… any surface I could get my hands on. It got me in a lot of trouble; sandpaper and I became very good friends.”
After this fraught yet passionate start, and working as a high-school English teacher, Erin began seriously pursuing her painting in her late twenties when she moved to Sydney with her husband, Darran Mangelsdorf. She majored in painting at a private art school, then in her final year taught the foundation class on its North Shore campus. Her first solo exhibition was held at a gallery at The Rocks, and a number of group shows with fellow students followed. In 2000, the couple’s first child, Tobias, was born, and the family moved back to Auckland and opened Madder & Rouge. In 2009, Erin picked up her painting where she left off. She now completes two bodies of work a year.

ABOVE Erin’s latest set of ‘songs’, Falling Action, began its life in a quote by William Shakespeare: “All the world’s a stage, and all men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.”

Erin, how does your creative process begin? For me, it always starts with text. I begin with a group of words that encapsulates a feeling. This moves into a palette of colours, which then takes on form. My work is strongly tied to my faith. I like to think of my paintings as ‘songs’ of beauty and joy that celebrate the relationship we have with our creator and creation, the humanness of us and our beautiful land.

And how does each series evolve? Once my idea has developed beyond words and the paint is ready to hit the canvas, I start layering up colour. I don’t usually begin to work on an idea until I have at least three different layers of paint down. I just enjoy the colours and the texture of the brushstrokes, and essentially play with the paint.
I work on three pieces at a time. I start my first work, then use the leftover paint to start layering on the next canvas. I’m never sure how many pieces I’ll have – I usually paint until I feel the idea has come to an end. Funnily enough, my last two works are usually my favourites. One is a final celebration of the idea I’ve been exploring and the other often holds a clue to my next body of work – it has moved beyond my theme.

ABOVE Works seen here include A curtain of shimmering light I (top) and Mask of a silver sky.

What mediums do you work with? I work with acrylics, charcoal and different paint mediums. I’m way too impatient for oil paint – I’ve blown numerous hairdryers drying my artworks so I can keep working on them.

Does your role at Madder & Rouge fuel your creative output? Not in terms of painting, but I do love the creativity of it. I love creating a space of beauty, being conscious of how our customers’ eyes travel around the shop. Like a painting, I work with shape, colour and texture to create a visually satisfying interior picture.

ABOVE “Colour has always been very instinctive for me,” says Erin. “I love the energy of it. It has a language all of its own; like words placed side by side, different colours next to each other tell different stories. In terms of my painting, the colour palettes are about the feeling a combination of colours produces. I don’t paint using a realistic palette – it’s purely emotive.” This work is A curtain of shimmering light II.

With everything else you’ve got going on, how do you make time to paint? I’d be lying if I said I found it easy. I’m often creatively frustrated by the time limits placed on me by my family and work commitments, and frequently have to take a deep breath and remind myself my time will come.
Due to my time constraints, I have to be very intentional about my painting and I’ve learned to be very selfish with that assigned time. I don’t wait to feel like painting – I force myself to just
pick up the brush and begin. Within about 30 minutes, I’m hooked.
I paint all day one weekday and one day during the weekend. Tobias and Sophia, my daughter, know that dinner on paint days will be rubbish, if I manage to produce dinner at all!

TOP A sky full of rippling cliffs & chasms. ABOVE The world is a stage.

What do you think the secret is to making art work in a home? Buy only what you love. Art should sing to you. I think it sits outside an interior scheme. I don’t care if it doesn’t match my colour scheme – if you’re operating on instinct, I think you’ll find it sits beautifully in your home.
Is it an investment? Really, who cares? Who are you buying the work for? In my mind, if you have an emotional connection to the art, it’s done its job well.


Interview Alice Lines
Photography Larnie Nicolson

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