#off the beaten track

Off the Beaten Track with Laree Payne

Editor Faith Wilson has a kōrero with Kirikiriroa gallerist Laree Payne.

In this series, our editors at The Pantograph Punch venture out of the big cities and into the regions of Aotearoa to kōrero with some exciting creatives. In this one, gallerist Laree Payne (Ngāi Tahu) talks about how she started one of Hamilton’s youngest dealer galleries, Weasel, and how she’s rebranded to the eponymous Laree Payne Gallery.

Faith Wilson: How did your interest in art begin?

Laree Payne: I’ve always been interested in visual arts. When I was younger, I used to paint and draw and sculpt and do a bit of everything. My dad is interested in art and he encouraged and supported me, he took me to galleries throughout my childhood so I’ve always been around art.

For a long time, I didn’t quite know how I would fit into the arts industry and where my place was in that world. Initially I studied social work, with the intention of going on to study arts therapy, but after living overseas I came back and decided to study arts management at Whitecliffe in Auckland.

I somewhat regret not going to art school but a few people in my life early on weren’t encouraging of that pathway.

Maia McDonald, Try Though I May Fail, 2020

FW: Did you find studying arts management helped you to find a place in the arts?

LP: More than anything, my studies helped me justify what I wanted to do. The Arts Management Programme is quite broad and there were students in music, performance – lots of different disciplines. It was varied and there wasn’t a strong emphasis on visual arts, which was challenging at times, as that was my only focus.

During that time, though, I was really looking at the Waikato region’s art scene – how it worked, who the key players were. There seemed to be no one exposing Waikato audiences to work from artists beyond the region, artists they didn’t know who would bring different perspectives.

FW: How did Weasel gallery start?

LP: In the last few months of my master’s, I was looking around and thinking – where am I going to work? I couldn’t see myself anywhere. I also had a feeling that there was a space for more contemporary art here in Hamilton. I decided that I wanted to open a gallery and within a few months of finishing my master’s I did.

I wasn’t very well prepared; I just wanted to get in and give it a go – learn on the job. I needed a lot of help because this building was in terrible shape, but rent was cheap and I had a space. My dad and my partner, Liam, gave me a lot of their time that summer – taking out walls, cleaning and painting. The renovations were self-funded – I had savings, but before long opened a credit card and billed everything to that. Then my uncle phoned me and said there was a Ngāi Tahu grant for iwi members starting new businesses. The grant wiped my debt, and Weasel officially opened in February of 2018.

Lottie Consalvo, A Moment II, 2020

FW: You've rebranded from Weasel to the eponymous Laree Payne Gallery recently. What's the reason?

LP: Prior to opening, I felt I didn’t have the time to go and work under another dealer, so I decided to figure it out as I went along. My goal has been to continually push forwards, to improve, to make each show better or more thoughtful than the last.

Weasel was a nonsensical name, which in part reflected my confidence at the beginning. There was also a large part of me that felt the name would take on the meaning of whatever it was that I created. It also reflected the precarious nature of the lease, as it was never guaranteed. I always thought that if the gallery disappeared, then Weasel would have popped up and popped down – no big deal.

I’m really proud of the way the shows have developed since the beginning, and in particular the last year or so. Now we’re more known, and people within the industry know my name. I know where the gallery sits within the community, I have a stronger sense of purpose and I’m comfortable putting my name to that.

A couple of artists and dealers that are more established told me very early on that I “NEED to change the name of this gallery!” The day after I announced I was changing the name, one of those artists called me up and congratulated me. There has been an overwhelmingly positive response to the change.

FW: What artists do you represent and what’s on the cards for the remainder of the year and next year?

LP: The artists I currently represent are Rachel Hope Peary, Laura Williams, Chauncey Flay and Maioha Kara – watch this space.

Currently I have an exhibition on called Two Waters: Wairua that’s showing until 19 December 2020. The exhibition comprises ceramic work by Maia McDonald and paintings by the Australian artist Lottie Consalvo.

It’s a bit early to say what’s happening in 2021, but we’ll be representing Rachel Hope Peary, Maioha Kara and Teelah George downstairs at the Auckland Art Fair next year, which I am really looking forward to.

Laree Payne Gallery's new logo

Feature image: Laree Payne stands next to one of Maia McDonald's ceramics. All images: Mark Hamilton

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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