This Auckland artist’s work is about capturing memories. She decorates her own home with objects that inspire this reflective process.
There’s a peep of the sea from Philippa Bentley’s expansive back deck with a golf course and various parks on three sides of the property. It’s nice as an artist to be surrounded by so much green, she says. Philippa lives with sons Robbie, 18, and Chris, 15, in Devonport on Auckland’s North Shore, a place she has called home for 20 years. She works in a tiny studio at the back of the 1940s bungalow producing beautiful screenprints of New Zealand fauna – butterflies, moths and most recently fish – that she sells online and through galleries. She began her artistic career while taking time out from teaching to be at home with her young children.
Philippa: “I won an award for painting at the Devonport Arts Festival and this gave me the confidence to think that maybe I could do this. So I did. It has steadily grown and for the past five years I have worked professionally as an artist.
My studio is tiny. Nobody I know works in a studio so small, but I love this space. I come in here and shut the door and it feels as if I am in my own world. Sometimes when I’m printing I’ll go into the dining room and spread out on the table for more light and space.
My work is very fine and detailed and I often create small works. Sometimes I feel that my work reflects the goldfish that only grows big enough to fit the size of its bowl!
For screen printing all I have is my screen, squeegee and kitchen table. You have to be very organised to make it work. I individually screen each piece onto board or paper, then hand paint them with watercolour.
The overall theme of my work is memory and childhood. I like the idea that we capture experiences, feelings, snippets of life and archive them in memories, just as butterflies are caught and preserved in a specimen collection. I’ve used wooden houseboards for the butterfly series after being inspired by the butterflies people put on their houses in the 1950s and 1960s.
I’m now working on a series with insects displayed in glass-top tables that I call memory boxes, based on museum specimen tables. Although I don’t like seeing real creatures stuffed or pinned I enjoy adapting the concept for my own work.
I’m also working on the idea of trophy fish that people mount on the wall. I’m starting with a flying fish incorporating the TEAL (the former name of Air New Zealand) logo.
I like things with a story. I like having stuff around me that has meaning. Many of the things I collect in the house were given to me by family. The teacups are from my mum and grandmother, I bought the old typewriter at an op-shop, and the binoculars, slide projector and camera in their original leather cases belonged to my Uncle Lindsay.
A lot of the art on the walls I have from swapping work with other printmakers like Prue McDougall and Lester Hall, or works by Tony Ogle and Stanley Palmer.
I enjoy collaborative projects as it stretches me creatively to work on something different; like the wool rug with Essenze or the beautiful chairs with Flutter Design, printed with my dragonflies and feathers.”
Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Melanie Jenkins.