Rejoicing in Central’s barren beauty

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Earnscleugh artist Maxine Williams says Central Otago’s greatest asset is its rocky, barren landscape. She talks to Pam Jones in this Q and A.

Q: What kind of art do you do and from where where does your inspiration come?

I practise a few art forms – a “Jack of all trades, master of none” – but recently I have been enjoying photography and filming more than anything. My new GoPro has me a wee bit excited and I’m getting lots of footage while out riding my motorbike around our gorgeous country. I’d like to be able to take people for a ride with me via my film.

Q: What is your background in the arts and community sector?

My past job was arts co-ordinator for Central Otago, which I finished exactly a year ago. I embraced that role with a passion for seven years. Holy moly, that’s the longest job I’ve ever had. I took a leap of faith in myself giving up that position and am not looking back. I love this newfound freedom, which I’m very protective of, meaning I will be the controller of my own destiny from now on.

Q: What projects are you working on at the moment?

The Alexandra Thyme Festival school murals project is something I’m facilitating and it’s coming to fruition. During term three I have been doing a mobile art class, working with kids from the four Alexandra and Clyde area primary schools. We’ve been busy designing some very cool murals to paint during the thyme festival. The finished murals will go up on toilet blocks around the area. The public are welcome to come down to Community House in Alexandra and see the kids painting their murals and after lunch they are welcome to help me paint the murals too. It’s been a great project so far and I’m not sure who has had the best time – me or the kids!

I’m also working with an artist friend from Dunedin, Aroha Novak, on a mural project in the Maniototo with the young people out there. We’ve had our two-day planning workshop and what we’ve come up with is going to be awesome. We’ve got a big long wall at the Ranfurly swimming pool to paint a mural on. That happens on November 18 and 19, and the community is welcome to come help us paint it. Like the Facebook page “Art Blast Youth Mural Project” for more info and photos.

Q: How do the colours and seasons of Central Otago affect your life and times?

Put it this way – I’m loving spring. Don’t get me wrong, winter is gorgeous too, but I hate being cold. My big old house could be a whole lot warmer if I threw a heap of money at it but I’d rather waste my money on motorbikes, my old Holden and petrol. Bring on summer, I say, and hopefully it’s stinking hot and lasts well into autumn. Now autumn, there’s a season I adore. At home, my property is surrounded by apricot trees and they totally glow orange when the sun’s out – it’s quite surreal.

Q: Where would you like to see the region heading, in an artistic, economic, community and holistic sense?

believe more of our stunning natural landscapes need to be protected and developed into reserves where you can drive through areas that haven’t been processed. We could plant back the native plants like tussocks, hebes, manuka and matagouri to create some truly spectacular places. I guess being a local you do see quite a bit of change to your region over the years, but these conversions to pivot sprinklers everywhere are like War of the Worlds to me. Dry golden landscapes I have loved all my life are turning green virtually overnight and I really don’t like it. I understand the Otago Regional Council is going through the process of setting minimum flows and residual flows in rivers and this big review is part of the drive for farmers to irrigate smarter, but I don’t think I was ready for the rapid greening of Central. I talk to plenty of other people who are worried, too, and have been to meetings about our rivers and lakes to try and figure out what’s going on, and there is concern across the board. Here’s hoping our council gets it right for all our people, and not just farmers. I see our region’s greatest asset as our rocky, barren landscape, where people come to love Central for its wild untamed beauty.