Bold strokes in watercolour

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Artist Dorothy Piper, of Alexandra, has a dramatic approach to watercolours that means her work does not follow the traditional soft look of the medium.

Ms Piper said she had been interested in art “from a very young age”.

“My parents noticed that, and sent me to a private art tutor in Dunedin.”

In her teens, Ms Piper became interested in Dunedin artist H.V. Miller.

“Probably from H.V. Miller was where I got my interest in watercolour.”

Further study at the Ilam School of Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury exposed her to some of the best artists in the country.

“I was tutored by some very illustrious names like Doris Lusk, Bill Sutton, Rudi Gopas and Don Peebles. They are all well-known artists in their own right, and it was a wonderful experience.

“I still remember a story that Doris Lusk told me, told the group.

“We were away from home and this was our first time out, and she took us into her studio with casks of sherry, and this wonderful space where she was doing all her work, and she said “Now, if you want to succeed, I’ll tell you how I’ve done it.’

“She had four children at that stage, and she said: ‘I get up in the morning, and I put my children outside the playpen, and I get in to the playpen and paint. That’s the only way I can concentrate.’

“It never worked that way for me,” Ms Piper said.

“I could never put myself in the playpen, and keep the kids out.

“So hence after art school, I became a mum.”

Within the confines of raising four children, she painted “and I did part-time art teaching as well, and I think I did a painting a year”.

Later, she and her partner, Malcolm Edwards, spent 10 years operating a six-bedroom lodge at Kokonga on the Otago Central Rail Trail before recently moving to Alexandra.

“When we went to Kokonga to do the lodge, that was probably when I put more time in.

“But when you see my paintings, they are very detailed, and I found I was still doing one a year.

“I think I am just a detail person. I love modern art. There are artists who I really, really admire, and I’d love to paint simply and bold and big and colour, and every time I try to do it, it’s just not my personality, so it fails.”

At the moment, she is exploring a war theme, reimagining photos from World War 2, including images of piles of shoes at Nazi concentration camps, being led along railway tracks to a gas chamber.

“That one caused quite a bit of comment when we were at Kokonga, because we had some guests who were Jewish, and they immediately saw what that was, and were really, really moved by it.

“I found that hard to do, because I got involved in the whole story of the people in the photograph,” Ms Piper said.

Other themes were landscapes and images of nature, but her individual style created a unique look for her watercolours.

Hidden history . . . Detail from a recent watercolour by Dorothy Piper adds a twist on the usual rural watercolour. PHOTO: SIMON HENDERSON

“This is the little cottage in Ophir, and I thought, I can’t just do a little cottage, so I put a ghost in,” she said.

“I do like contrast in painting. I like darks to be dark, to show the lights.

“I like the dramatic effect. Even if the subject isn’t particularly dramatic, I still like drama in a painting.”