Artist 'humbled' to receive award<a href="http://tinyurl.com/DPT-kay-blundell">Kay Blundell</a><br>Kapiti reporter13:16, Jun 09 2012
Shane Cotton thought it was a joke when he received an email saying he had been made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to visual arts.
The Palmerston North artist was in Melbourne when he received the news. He thought at first it was a prank. But then shock set in.
"I was in total disbelief, so blown away. I was stunned, a bit humbled. I thought these awards only went to elderly, I am mid-career," the 47-year-old says.
Growing up in Upper Hutt, his passion from an early age was drawing and then painting, combining inspiration from the ancestry of his father, a member of the Ngapuhi iwi, and his European mother.
"Biculturalism, how our histories have been interwoven over time, things that have come out of that connection – culture, politics, societal living – have been the driving factors in my work.
"Sometimes a myth or narrative may be the starting point, then you take a little journey in terms of the imagery you use."
His work includes Maori iconography and culture, such as shrunken heads and native birds, and European symbols. His paintings have explored colonialism, cultural identity, Maori spirituality, life and death.
He drew all through school and studied for a fine arts degree at the University of Canterbury.
His first visit to the fine arts department cemented his desire to become a painter.
"I was completely taken by it, decided that is exactly what I want to do – study art eight hours a day, five days a week and hopefully get a degree at the end, knowing quite well that after four years there would not be a job waiting."
After completing his degree, he gained a diploma of education from Christchurch College of Education and lectured at Massey University in the Maori Visual Arts Programme until 2005.
Earning a living as a fulltime artist is not easy, he admits.
"It is really difficult. The audience in New Zealand is pretty small. It is not an easy thing but there are a lot of others doing it now – that is encouraging."
Referring to his work as "a practice", he says many of his days are nine to five with weekends thrown in when he is working to a deadline for an exhibition.
"You love doing it, you want to do it but it does not always go your way. There are a lot of problems you must solve, but it is rewarding at the end of it."
He was a recipient of the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship and his work is highly sought-after. He received the Seppelt Contemporary Art Award from Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art and exhibited in the Asia Society Museum in New York, the Anna Schwartz Gallery in Melbourne and many galleries in New Zealand.
His advice to budding artists aiming to paint full time is to battle on.
"You just have to keep battling away at it, follow your passion. If art is what you are drawn to, just keep working at it, follow what your heart tells you."
The Dominion Post