Intuition and play

Updated: Mar 30

Andrea Gardner works across sculpture and photography, and recently won the 2021 Pattillo Whanganui Arts Review Open Award at the Sarjeant Gallery for her staged photographic work Now I Have Your Attention.

Here, the retired art educator and artist talks of colour, music, and exploring the unexpected.


Andrea Gardner in her studio, 2021. Photograph by Michael McKeagg

How does your childhood influence your work now?

I grew up in northern California. My mother was an artist so there was a lot of art around the house. Rather than doing puzzles, games or sports our family liked to make things. My father had a wood shop and my mother had a small studio in the garden and a welding set-up in the garage. They had an extensive collection of art books as well as art objects from Mexico and India. It was a very visual upbringing. We listened to music but we never sang!


Who are your biggest influences?

I have always enjoyed the work of the American photographer Cindy Sherman who continually uses herself in her photographs to portray various imagined characters. Haegue Yang is a Korean artist who creates multimedia installations consisting of wild sculptural objects often in front of large futuristic wall graphics. I think her work is weird and wonderful. Louise Bourgeois has also been an influence with her focus on the body, sexuality, domesticity, and memory.


What were you like at 15?

When I was a teenager I was quiet, studious and introverted. I had a wonderful pinto horse named John whom I rode bareback in the hills. He was a huge responsibility as I was his sole caretaker. Through him I developed a deep love for animals and for being outdoors in open country.



Where do you work?

I work at home in a studio in the garden. For me, having “a room of one’s own”, in the words of Virginia Wolf, is essential. It is a very private space which makes it safe for experimentation.


Describe your creative process.

In my studio I use two electronic flash lights, a tripod and a large two to three metre piece of coloured fabric as a background cloth. Before doing a photo shoot I lay out some props on the floor that I might like to use: small photos, clothing, wigs, masks, cardboard and paper shapes, etc. I generally have one or two specific ideas that I want to start with. Then I get dressed up because I am often the subject in the picture.

Sometimes the goal has been to explore colour – how to make images that were intensely red, deeply yellow or overwhelmingly blue. But then I like to begin to improvise and play around with the props, to create scenarios that I have never seen before and that might surprise me. This exploration of the unexpected is interesting territory: intuitive, sometimes playful, enigmatic and often uncertain. Sometimes the best images are completely unplanned and come from spontaneously playing with the objects that I have at hand. I am not a trained photographer; my process is more akin to sculpture.



What do you think about when you’re alone in your car?

When I am alone in the car I play music from Latin America. I like contemplating the lyrics. I have been studying Spanish for a number of years.


What themes do you pursue?

My earlier work explored how we perceive nature in a contemporary context, the tension between domesticity and nature, artifice in relation to reality, and the familiar juxtaposed with the unexpected. Recent work has become more figurative, exploring the psychological tension found in female experience. I also am interested in theatricality and ideas around the absurd, involving an intuitive search for poetic and unexpected narratives.


What materials are integral in your work?

In my art practice in the past I have used a lot of different materials: clay, Styrofoam, hair, mud and found objects. In my current photographic work colour and texture are important. I go to Op shops looking for certain colours of clothing. And I am very fond of cardboard. I like having pictures within pictures. Sometimes a picture in a magazine or old book looks alluring so I will cut it out and pin it up in the studio set-up. It can add another level to the narrative in the photo. I don’t like Photoshop but occasionally use it to erase a wire.


What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

My mother used to say to me: “Always put your best foot forward”. I thought this was odd because how could one foot be better than the other? But I knew what she meant.



All the winning works and finalists of the 2021 Pattillo Whanganui Arts Review are on display at Sarjeant on the Quay until 16 May.


Images courtesy of the artist

  • Two Humans

  • Red Stain

  • Now I Have Your Attention

  • Red Acorn

  • I Wish I Were You

  • Big And Small At The Same Time


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