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A Hawke’s Bay sleepout is transformed into an art studio and bar

In true Kiwi style, when Tony Harrington needed a space to display his artwork, he called in a mate and they built it themselves

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The studio space in a snapshot

Who lives here? Tony Harrington (artist), Lisa Harrington (social worker), Ella, 10, and Lily, 7, plus Puss Puss the cat.

Tony Harrington creates striking artwork in a variety of mediums, most of them involving recycled timber and Resene testpots. Growing up in Hawke’s Bay, he attended a typical bicultural provincial school, and it was through his schooling, friends and extended family (plus time spent travelling overseas) that Tony developed a great respect for and appreciation of the Maori culture. Much of his work is influenced by traditional Maori art forms as well as the rural and coastal Kiwi lifestyles. The results are intriguing, satisfying fusions of Maori and Pakeha culture that provide the viewer with a truly Kiwi perspective tinged with nostalgia.

A number of galleries throughout New Zealand carry Tony’s work, including The Poi Room, Moko Artspace, Kura Gallery and A+E Gallery. His own studio, The View Room in Napier (available to visit by appointment), allows him to showcase and rotate a variety of pieces.

Tony graduated from the Eastern Institute of Technology in 2004 with a degree in visual art and design, majoring in 3D and furniture design. He puts his talents to good use not only in his artwork but also in his workspace and the unique home he shares with his young family. Together with his good friend builder Mark Kopu, he transformed the tiny sleep-out at the back of the house into The View Room. After extending the roof, they lined the room with plywood and clad the exterior in black-stained ply and Zincalume.

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The deck came next and his much-talked-about ‘koru fence’. Nothing escapes Tony’s creative eye – what began as a simple barbecue bench is now a functional outdoor bar complete with built-in ice bucket, workbench and thatched roof. “The View Room and deck have been a welcome addition and a revelation to the backyard,” says Tony. “I can sit here, enjoy a quiet ale and the artistic inspirations just flow!”

I can sit here, enjoy a quiet ale

and the artistic inspirations just flow!

The backyard has come a long way since their arrival nine years ago when a solitary bush was all there was to be found. One of the latest additions to this space, and a favourite of daughters Lily and Ella, is the outdoor bath behind the studio.

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Tony draws inspiration for his creations from many sources. “I am inspired on a daily basis by what I am experiencing in my environment, what I am reading, listening to, seeing, and by just being,” he explains. A lover of typography, he often takes pop culture and song lyrics and reinterprets them in his artwork.

Re-purposing demolition timber means his ‘canvas’ doesn’t always start out blank. Remnants of paint left behind inspire him about what has been before, and provide added depth and layers to his art. “These works carry with them literal and conceptual stories of the past combined with current-day references to living in bicultural Aotearoa,” says Tony.

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Along with the ale and old paint, fellow New Zealand artists such as Shane Cotton, Colin McCahon and Dick Frizzell have all played a part in Tony’s artistic vision, he says – not to mention the impact of urban and graffiti art, which have long intrigued him.

As a child, Tony was always drawing and painting, and at high school his teacher encouraged him to pursue a career in art. But he didn’t feel ready, choosing instead to travel and work in a number of different fields before deciding to take up art once more – luckily for us.

Words by: Vic Bibby. Photography by: Florence Charvin.

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