The “Track Light” series serves to briefly introduce a number of individuals involved
with the One World Artist Gallery (OWAG) from their various places around the globe.
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Today, I talk with Kiwi illustrator, designer, and educator Jade Beale-Linklater.
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John: Hey Jade! Congratulations to you and your husband on the birth of your son, Quinn. How are you managing being a mother and an artist these days?
Jade: Thank you! Funny you should ask. When I was pregnant I asked a friend whether I would be able to continue with my art once our baby came. I realize now that was a silly question!
Art-making has simply become stop-start, stop-start since giving birth. Most of it is done late at night when I should be preparing for Quinn’s wake-ups. And during the day, now that Quinn is moving, he likes to be a part of work himself… as the materials-eater, ha ha.
John: An unpaid assistant! Nice. So tell us about your life there in New Zealand.
Jade: Just to clarify… New Zealand is a separate country from Australia.
Jade: And yes, we have TVs here. We don’t wear grass skirts. And yes… there are lots of sheep!
John: Okay, we got all that out of the way, ha ha. So you are from the North Island?
Jade: Yes. I had a wonderful childhood growing up in Tokoroa, which is a town in the centre of the North Island. It’s close to the mountains, lakes, and beaches, and is known for forestry, farming, and a pulp & paper mill, coincidentally.
So much talent comes from Tokoroa. In particular, a huge amount of professional sportsmen and women. And of course, awesome artists! But I now live in windy Wellington, as my husband is teaching at a Catholic boy’s school here. It’s a pretty cool place with a real artsy vibe.
John: Let’s talk about your art and design work. To me, your work is very intricate and ordered… and very calming. Is that at all reflective of your personality or temperament?
Jade: Yeah, I think I’m pretty cruisy and calm (sometimes perhaps too calm!) and that comes through in my work. I’m definitely not very organized, though. I do try to be neat, now with baby Quinn here. But my art doesn’t usually have an intended outcome.
John: So not organized in the sense of you knowing exactly what the finished design is going to be?
Jade: Yeah. I kinda just start, wing it, and hope for the best. Lots of happy accidents occur and I usually end up with a beautiful mess! At times I will regret a mark I’ve made, but it’s a challenge to try and fix it.
John: That’s why you gotta get an iPad.
Jade: As the patterns are so detailed, some pieces take me quite a long time. At times I’ve spent several hours to then just decide I can’t stand a piece and will put it away for months. But then I’ll pick it up again down the track and go from there. In a completely different head space, I’ll create something pretty cool… only several months later! I think this is pretty normal? Is it?
John: Sure! There’s no real definition for what’s normal. And when did you start drawing? Do you remember your earliest interests in it?
Jade: My mum told me that as a young kid I wasn’t so interested in reading, because I couldn’t really keep still. But when there was the option to draw, I would sit still for hours and doodle. As a teenager, I would sit on the phone for hours and doodle like this.
I remember really starting to love art at intermediate (middle school), when I was asked to be in Extension Art (which is an advanced class). The art room was my happy place at school and I realized that I was most relaxed there. I’ve never been naturally gifted, academically speaking, so I had to work really hard in all areas. But in Art class I could just go with the flow and not worry about getting it right or wrong.
John: What other artists have influenced you over time?
Jade: Growing up in New Zealand and in Tokoroa, which is such a multi cultural community, I was lucky enough to be exposed to a variety of artists growing up. I especially loved Maori and Pacific artists and lots of my senior research and folio works were based on artists such as Robyn Kahukiwa (Maori), John Pule (Niuean), and Fatu Feu’u (Samoan). We have such incredible artists throughout New Zealand, and I was a big appropriator of their work.
John: Yeah, your work actually reminds me of Josh Bashford’s. He was a student of Fatu Feu’u, I believe.
Jade: There are some amazing Maori artists who visually represent Maori culture though their art. We’ve grown up visiting the Marae (meeting house) where traditional painted and carved symbols surround us. Ta Moko (traditional tattoo) is another beautiful representation of Maori tradition. Growing up, we often saw Maori symbols, particularly Kowhaiwhai (Maori patterning) which is how we learned about the different symbols.
Two examples are koru, which is a symbol of a fern frond, and hei matau, which is a fish hook. I bring symbols such as these into my own art, but with a contemporary twist.
John: You’re still managing to do some commissioned work these days when not mommy-ing and teaching?
Jade: Yes, I am. Thanks for the plug. Anyone can see my work and reach me on Facebook if interested.
John: You’ve been an educator for some time; that’s actually how we first met in China when I was teaching Drama and you were teaching Visual Art. What’s the value of art or creativity in education, do you think?
Jade: I believe it’s so important to give children the time to explore and create. Growing up in New Zealand, we were so blessed to have had opportunities at school to play and to think for ourselves. We were taught the basics of art, but we were given the freedom to follow our interests and just go for it. We were given a “skeleton” guide, and a variety of ideas, and support, and lots of discussion… but ultimately it was our choice to create our own unique art.
Teaching in China a few years ago, I really had to work hard to get the local Chinese high school students to think for themselves and to make the shift away from copying… to get them to inquire and not to worry if they made “mistakes” because it’s all part of learning and a mistake can be a good thing.
When we moved from Guangzhou to Beijing, I was teaching Grades 3 and 4, and I absolutely loved it! There were no walls up, they were such sponges who were interested in everything I had to show them and really went all out to create the coolest art without any worry about what others were thinking.
How can we do this with teens and adults?