AN exhibition at Te Koputu, Whakatane’s library and exhibition centre, has been the culmination of a learning journey that started in Whakatane, continued in Auckland and has now come full circle for artist Jordan Davey-Emms.
The exhibition, titled Ground Hum, is her first solo exhibition, although she has submitted works for several years to the Molly Morpeth Art Awards in Whakatane, and was also an award-winning artist in a recent collaborative exhibition in Auckland. Ground Hum investigates how surfaces connect and feed off each other and opened last week.
Graduating from Auckland University’s Elam School of Fine Arts with a bachelor of fine arts (honours) last November, Jordan says the learning experience was one that fostered her creativity. “It was challenging, although I was somewhat prepared for that and had a very open mind,” Jordan says.
Jordan’s journey from traditional art-like portraits transgressed from her early high school years to more abstract art and ideas by the time she left in year 13. Her final portfolio on leaving school prompted people to ask her mother “if Jordan was going through a bad patch”. It was no bad patch, the art was just a natural progression from the traditional art base of replicating what something looks like – to starting to look at how materials and compounds interact with one another.
Recently Jordan won the coveted Glaistor Ennor Award, gaining a scholarship enabling her to complete further works. But the best part was that the judges “actually got what I was trying to convey” with her floor-based installation. Jordan says she was delighted that the judges actually “understand it”.
“It was hard to believe I’d won the award – it was really overwhelming, but really cool to receive it,” Jordan says, and she felt it was reassurance that what she was doing had meaning and value. Jordan is hopeful the momentum continues.
Living in Auckland for four years was an adjustment following a primarily rural upbringing in Edgecumbe and then Thornton. The hustle and bustle of Auckland was almost overwhelming at first, but Jordan says she began to appreciate all the creative aspect of city life, and found inspiration almost daily, in the small things. Plus, the art students became a tight group, supporting and encouraging each other, which helped them get through the alienation of being in such a big urban area.
“Living in the halls in the first year was great as I made some really good friends, and I was aware that it was going to be a really big shift so I’d managed to prepare myself to change modes in terms of my art – but it was really tough on some people.” Jordan believes she was ready for change and for the additional challenges Elam tutors offered.
Jordan has always been interested in learning new things and in science, English and theatre. She thrived on the atmosphere at Elam where art students were pushed to pull in other elements from the world around them and see how they operate.
“It’s like getting the zoom-in and zoom-out perspective. It’s so exciting, there’s just millions of things and inspiration comes from everywhere,” Jordan says, like puddles and cobblestones.
With an artistic family, Jordan began feeding her love of art from an early age and remembers finding out about her great great grandmother Sarah Featon, who is known as New Zealand’s first botanical artist having illustrated the first botanical book. Some of the 100 copies of the book that were printed, and many of the original paintings, are housed in Te Papa for safe keeping – recognised as national treasures.
Currently she has taken over a shed that her builder father had started to erect as a drawing room for her mum. With the windows still missing and a winter’s draft coming through, Jordan is in her element, planning and creating her new works. Too much planning, though, stifles the creativity, so she notes down ideas and options, and then goes free range – with plenty of “experiments” going on inside and outside.
The eldest of three, Jordan says one of the main reasons she moved back home to Thornton after graduating, was to spend more time with her brothers Ben,13, and Tye, 11, who idolise their older sister. “I really missed them and wanted to be there in the years they are growing up.”
There is also Jordan’s grandparents who live just across the paddock and, along with her parents, are her biggest fans. “Although sometimes they do ask for the meaning of my art work now,” Jordan says.
People asking the meaning of the work is never a problem for Jordan, who believes the first step of people understanding artistic expression is having an open mind to it.
Her Ground Hum exhibition is on show for the next few weeks, alongside the Whakatane Pottery Society, a group that Jordan has recently joined – again to further her knowledge of materials.
Life as an artist is not renowned for being one of wealth, and at this early stage in her career, Jordan works part-time at the White House Café, where she finds inspiration. Plus she enjoys meeting people and working as part of the café’s team.