Kirstin and Claire at the West Lynn Garden & Butterfly House. Photo / Mark Leedom

Going Places With Claire Chitham: Claire Takes Artist Kirstin Carlin Out West

The two creatives hit the road in a powerful new Jaguar E-PACE

The artist's life is not quite as glamorous or bohemian as the poets or movies would have us believe. But who wants to wax lyrical about the tedious difficulty of paying a mortgage and putting the kids through school when musing on an artistic pursuit?

We live in a modern world that favours stability with its monthly payment plans, long-term goals and quarterly financial projections. This ignites terror in an artists soul. Ask any artist — be it a writer, painter, musician, photographer or an actor — what they think they might be doing in a year’s time and most of them will blithely deflect, laugh hysterically or crumble with anxiety.

We don’t know. We never know. We take big stabs into the dark and leap, hoping that some of our ideas might land and maybe one day we’ll be paid for them. There is no clear path, no straight line, no certainty and little stability. To have a career in any one of them is a tenacious act.

Perusing vintage finds at The Fabulist in Oratia. Photo / Mark Leedom

It’s easy to empathise that being a mother in this aforementioned climate offers up some additional, unique challenges. Routine and timetables are often hurdles to the creative process. Compound that when your partner is also an artist. Therefore, trying to raise a five-year-old plus her partner's teenage son and a cat called Lenny while managing the fine balance between not one but two artistic careers in the family means that painter Kirstin Carlin doesn’t have time to float around being poetic or looking for inspiration while wandering wistfully through a garden, as she’s too damn busy getting on with the job of being an artist and feeding her family alongside her partner, sculptor Dan Arps.

In saying all of that, give said artists a chance to purr around town for an adventure in the E-PACE, the sexy new SUV offering from the old-school glamour of prestigious Jaguar and you’ll hear a ‘yes’ faster than you can flick a paintbrush.

When I call Auckland-based painter Kirstin Carlin, to discuss where we might go on our road-trip together, we discover we’re from the exact same corner of the world. Mt Roskill. I was brought up in Hillsborough and Kirstin just off Dominion Road. It is not a glamorous area. It is not especially poetic when it comes to New Zealand’s rich cultural history. Yet here we are, the painter and the actor with careers into our forties. Both quietly shocked and simultaneously chuffed.

Our career paths are less similar. I fell in love with acting from a young age and have been doing it ever since I was eight. Kirstin started an Art and Design degree at Unitec, contemplating either an art or design major but fell for painting. After completing a Post Graduate Diploma at Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland she rounded it all off with a Masters in Fine Arts at Glasgow School of Arts ten years ago.

Kirstin’s oil paintings have a sense of energy, playfulness and immediacy to them that I loved as soon as I got to see one up close. The thick layers of paint, the movement and rhythm in them, the abstract nod to whichever thematic form her current series is leaning towards brings them alive.

I can understand why she’s rising up the ladder in the NZ art scene. Last year saw Kirstin collaborating with fashion designer Ingrid Starnes in a stunning, ethereal custom print fabric resulting in Te Papa purchasing the silk dress from the collection. This was followed up by a public project with over 20 flags she designed, pulled from close-ups of her impasto oil-paintings, flying in the Britomart precinct last Spring.

The printed textile Kirstin created with Ingrid Starnes. Photo / Mark Leedom

When I ask Kirstin if there’s anywhere interesting I could take her that especially speaks to her work, maybe a garden, she said she’s more likely to find inspiration for her next show by studying a museum's database or pouring over historical photos in the library. Not ideal for our adventure but certainly more realistic, she then revealed she gets great joy and relaxation from scouring through op shops and vintage stores when she can. Luckily, I have a secret spot she’s never heard of that I offer to take her to.

Excited to have the chance to get to know Kirstin more but also fizzing to see what our big cat can do on the road I suggest taking the ‘long way’ to our destination solely so I can coast around the curves of the Waitakere Ranges in our sexy beast and see how she handles.

My Dad owned a beautiful old Jaguar XJ sedan when I was about 15 and was just starting to care about cars. It floated over the road like a boat. In comparison, this modern machine is more like a rocket ship. The height giving us the visibility you want with an SUV but the power of its racing engine meant it felt constantly magnetised to the road, even in the slippery wet conditions we found ourselves in on Scenic Drive. As we confidently weave our way west, we debate the perils of the artistic life together, trying to juggle adult responsibilities with careers that require fluidity, patience, malleability and often a lot of hope.

West Lynn Garden & Butterfly House and the E-PACE. Photo / Mark Leedom

Like the beautiful Jaguar, the presence of the past is vital to our craft. She cites being passionately influenced by the works of New Zealand painter Frances Hodgkins and Scottish painter Anne Redpath – both artists working from similar times in the late 1800s through to the mid-1900s.

Kirstin finds form in the more traditional ideas of landscapes and still-lifes that evoke the feeling of a classic painting, but she reimagines it with the energy, colour and irreverence with which she creates the work itself. Completing her final pieces all in one sitting, or should I say standing, the sense of now in her work is visceral and she likes to allow the paint to do the work for her.

The same could be said about how we felt in our E-PACE, it seemed to do all the work for us. The luxurious history of its past is very present alongside all the bells and whistles of today, as we landed at my favourite vintage store The Fabulist in Oratia, just before the heavens opened to herald our arrival.

Kirstin and Claire at Melanie Roger Gallery. Photo / Mark Leedom

Pouring through unusual bric-o-bracs, art and artifacts, being coached on what a ‘Grouse Foot’ was by owner Brother Jay (it’s a Scottish lucky charm) and trying on vintage clothing was a great escape from the weather outside. I walked away with a new dress and Kirstin walked away with a new art fan in Jay, encouraging her to ‘keep going, keep creating’ as we departed.

All good adventures require sustenance and we found ours at Jemima’s Kitchen, a takeaway food container by the roundabout of Oratia and Glen Eden, where Jemima herself made us the *best* damn sourdough toastie in Auckland. We kept the melted cheese out of the car and then Kirstin offered to return the favour and take me to a spot I hadn’t been to before. 

Discussing creativity at Melanie Roger Gallery. Photo / Mark Leedom

We roared our way to the West Lynn Garden & Butterfly House, a place where she often brings her son Gus for an explore and I giggled like a delighted teenager over the hundreds of Monarch’s fluttering around our heads as we chatted.

Kirstin and Claire at the West Lynn Garden & Butterfly House. Photo / Mark Leedom

The Jaguar E-PACE at Jemima's Kitchen. West Lynn Garden & Butterfly House. Photo / Mark Leedom

We ended our tour at the reputable Melanie Roger Gallery on Karangahape Rd to see Kirstin’s work up close. Melanie, a highly established gallerist has been representing Kirstin for over seven years now and is just as excited about Kirstin’s work as I am. We ogle together and I try not to obsessively stick my fingers into the deep crevice’s of paint too much.

At the West Lynn Garden & Butterfly House. Photo / Mark Leedom

As we coasted back to our old childhood neighbourhood, where Kirstin has now built a new home at the back of her family’s original property, we parted with an appreciation for how much the ‘old meets new’ philosophy bleeds through our lives, how everything we do is a ‘WIP’ and a deep sense of camaraderie over our shared career paths and goals. Both more pragmatic than poetic, yet definitively artistic by design.

Kirstin Carlin is certainly one artist who is going places. Check her work out at Melanie Roger Gallery.

Claire Chitham can be seen on our screens and has a new book out on gut health called Good For You available at all good bookstores and online.

For more on the Jaguar E-PACE, head to Jaguar.co.nz



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