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Green fingers

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

Karl Maughan is an artist represented by Page Blackie Gallery. Karl’s subject matter is the garden. His botanical creations explore everything from overgrown hedges and wild undergrowth, to meticulously manicured lawns and regimented plantings. Here he talks discipline, art books, and his best party trick.

What does a typical day look like?

Well I am fairly disciplined. I get up and organised in the morning. I have a coffee and something to eat in a café. Prefab and L’affare are favourites. Then I make my way to the studio and start painting. Mostly I get on with it, but it’s amazing how many things I can find to distract me from painting. I need a lot of time actually painting, so I need a lot of time in the studio. I’ve had the studio since we moved back to Wellington in 2013. There are other artists, set builders, and carpenters in the building. People often drop in. I listen to lots of audiobooks, immersing myself in the world of fiction while I paint. Since having kids I have to be much more disciplined about when I leave at the end of the day. In London I used to pretty much live at the studio - I once did 100 days in a row.

Where were you 3 hours ago?

Sitting in Prefab.

What project are you working on now?

I’ve just finished my show for Page Blackie Gallery in Wellington, which saw me looking at perennial gardens. The titles of the works refer to places in the Tasman area. When I make an exhibition I tend to look at photographs from a particular region and go from there. I start painting and as each painting is finished it changes what the next painting will look like.

Karl Maughan in his studio. Photo by Ryan McCauley.

What’s the most interesting think you’ve read or seen this week?

I’m listening to my friend’s brilliant book The Good Sister by Morgan Jones. It’s a thriller about a father who sets out to save a daughter who doesn’t want to be saved. The language is beautifully descriptive.

How have you developed your career?

I drew a lot when I was a kid and liked doing art at school. Then at high school I thought maybe I could get into art school. I think I scraped in, I only got in because someone else dropped out. I think for my bursary folio I got 66 percent. I never thought about art as a career initially. I swung from exhibition to exhibition, exploring what I wanted to paint and over time it became a career. I was painting more than I was doing anything else.

What research do you do?

I’ve always used photography as reference for my paintings, thousands of photographs. My works are based on real gardens, but I don’t necessarily stay true to reality. I manipulate them. It’s a wonderful thing to research gardens, to wander around them. You start to see how the idea of landscaping affects the way you work, and how making a painting gives you a certain freedom. It’s the ultimate form of gardening. You can take a tree out, change its size, or add in a lake. It’s great fun.

What's the most indispensable item in your studio?

Well there a lot of them but my collection of art books. It’s brilliant to have that as a reference. That’s vital for me. To see work by other artists that challenges you and makes you think about the work that you’re doing. I’ve had some of the books for thirty or forty years. Some I’ve bought more recently. There are some great secondhand bookshops in Wellington. And of course it’s easier to access particular books now with the internet as well. The books are all stacked up around the studio, and I often use the bookshelves to stack paintings against as well.

Teach us something we might not already know.

You can never throw a walnut hard enough to break a window. The walnut always shatters first. It’s a great party trick.

Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington

Until 28 September


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