Words and faces as one

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SPELLBOUND: Look closely at Tobi Dante’s portraits and you will be captivated. Thousands of words form the features of the face she has captured in her painting. Photos louis Klaassen D5212-09

BEFORE she leaves Whakatane for England, artist Tobi Dante is treating art lovers to an exhibition of her distinctive work.

The 46-year-old Kiwi artist is holding her first – and last – exhibition at the 4 Art Sake Gallery in Ohope, from April 22 to May 2.

It will be her debut and final show for the town because she is leaving with her British husband, furniture craftsman Rob Wilson, to go and live in the Yorkshire Dales in May.

The shy artist has never exhibited in Whakatane before and has held only small shows elsewhere in New Zealand.

Dante is passionate about portraits and poetry, and has been able to combine her two loves in her art which literally paints a thousand words.

A self-taught artist and photographer, she paints black and white portraits with words – thousands of them, strung together to form a face.

They are usually words from a poem, or a Bible psalm or verse that has inspired her.

“People sometimes ask if my art is computer generated, but it is all done by hand,” she said. The paintings take weeks to complete.

Dante was runner-up in the 2007 Molly Morpeth Canaday art award but only recently started painting again, having given up full-time painting after the recession when commissions dropped away.

With a desire to improve her digital technology skills, she went back to school in 2011 to study computer graphics although she has not worked in that industry.

It was a university lecturer that encouraged her to return to her art.

“She accidentally found some of my art online … and when I went into class she said, ‘I want to show you something’, and my painting was on the screen.

“She was incredibly encouraging and told me to pursue my art – I was training to become digitally-equipped and she was telling me to go back to painting.”

The typographical artist goes by the trade name of “One trick pony” because, as she explains it, she only does one type of art.

Dante has been painting again since December, encouraged by her husband. One of her latest works, a portrait of a man, is inspired by WH Auden’s poem Shield of Achilles.

The entire face is made up of lines from the poem, juxtaposed with Psalm 144, a psalm for God’s protection.

It will be among the paintings on show at the gallery next week.

Dante said she was not overly religious, even though she referred in her art to the Bible, but she did follow Christ and his teachings.

She also confesses to preferring to work in black and white, although she has done paintings in colour.