Multidisciplinary artist Salome Tanuvasa

Why nature and family are her biggest influences.

For Salome Tanuvasa, the juggle really is real. After completing her Master of Fine Arts at Elam School of Fine Arts in 2014, she went on to study to become a teacher, graduating a year later. Today, while continuing to show in solo and group exhibitions, including in Sydney and Shanghai, she works full-time as an art and technology teacher at a Māngere high school and is a mum of two, making the evenings her time to get creative. This highly skilled lady’s most recent body of work, Autotelic, included paintings in acrylic on card and impasto works on canvas and calico. 

ABOVE Lately, Salome’s been working with clay.

So Salome, how would you describe your art practice? It looks at interactions with materials; I consider the qualities of an object and wonder what can develop within the timeframe I have.
I work with a range of materials: coloured card, canvas, fabric, found paper, clay, tape, film, marker pens, colouring pencils, paint, oil pastels… I’m interested in using materials that are found around the house — looking at things that may seem mundane but finding interest in the forms explored. 

ABOVE Untitled artworks from her recent exhibition, Autotelic, at Auckland’s Tim Melville gallery.

What’s shaped your aesthetic? I’m primarily inspired by nature and family. Spending time with my family, having conversations and sharing stories helps nurture my wellbeing, and nature helps me to relax as well.
When my body is busy inside a room, I find myself looking out the window searching for the blue sky or the horizon to hold my attention; I’m interested in the lines I see, the clouds, leaves, trees, rocks. Being outside is one of my favourite things, especially when I’m walking with my sons. I might point out a puddle on the street and throw a stone into it so we can see the vibrations on the surface.
There are also moments when I feel like moulding something with my hands, to press into clay to record something with the indentation of my hands, which then creates an odd shape. These irregularities are the things I enjoy the most.

Where do you work? I’d love to have a studio, but I find myself working in my bedroom. Over the years, I’ve spread my making across domestic spaces: the kitchen, the living room, the hallway — anywhere that has space for it. 

ABOVE Experimentation with clay.

As a first-generation New Zealander, how does your Pacific Island heritage influence your creativity? My parents immigrated from the Pacific islands in the 1970s, so growing up I had Samoan and Tongan languages spoken at home and learned about the cultures and heard the stories of what the Islands were like. Simple conversations about the food, the landscape, the weather and family members help me visualise an understanding of what home was like in the Pacific. 

ABOVE More works from Autotelic, all connected by Salome’s awareness of the state of flow necessary for her making to hit the mark.

At your most recent exhibition, Autotelic, at Auckland’s Tim Melville gallery, your process was described as a ‘flow state’ — what does that actually mean? It’s the best description of how I make, with my busy schedule as a mum working full-time as a teacher. When I’m making, it’s intense and concentrated; I listen to my gut. My inner dialogues are in constant flow as I reflect on intuitive thoughts amid the immediate action recorded by the materials I interact with. I struggle to stick to a schedule, but once I’m in the zone, I’m creating and it’s hard to stop.
The colours you select seem playful but deliberate — what informs the palette you work with? It depends — whatever colour comes to mind or how I feel will influence a piece. There are phases in which I feel like I want a neutral palette and experiment with all the shades within that field. At other times, I’m feeling vibrant and want to create bold pieces. 

What gets you in the mood to create? Dedicating a day to making and preparing to make beforehand helps me create. I don’t have a schedule yet, but it’s something I’m keen to develop.

What are you working towards at the moment? I’m working on some clay mounds and shapes. I think forms are lovely things to consider and working with clay is a grounding experience. I have a few group shows coming up, so this is a great time to have some solitude with my works. 

How does your art practice fit around your working-parent commitments? When I have deadlines, I find myself working late into the night. I think the deadlines push me to make quick decisions for pieces and get myself to face the hard questions — such as whether I like what I’ve produced or not — then find a solution to make it work.

Interview Alice Lines
Photography (portrait) Larnie Nicolson and (gallery photography) Kallan MacLeod 

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