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STYLE Insider: Grace Wright talks pioneering artists, creativity and cherished possessions

It’s hard to pull your eyes away from the tangled gestures of coiling colour that form Grace Wright’s alluring paintings. The Auckland painter talks to STYLE about which artists she follows, what she’s been listening to and watching lately, and her various creative pursuits over the years.

If money was no problem, an artist whose work I’d buy would be… Kei Imazu. She’s a Japanese artist I discovered a year ago whose work connects to historical painting, yet has this kind of digital glitch. I’m really fascinated by her use of colour, gesture and composition.

My favourite emerging New Zealand artists are… Aiko Robinson, Meg Porteous, Hugo Koha Lindsay and Christina Pataialii. Aiko and I did our undergraduate study together at Elam and remain good friends as both our careers have evolved. We exhibited together in 2017 and last year I spent some time with her in Japan while she was studying for her masters at Tokyo University of the Arts.

The last clothing or household item I bought was… a coffee table I’m having restored. It was a great second-hand purchase and I prefer to buy quality when I come across it, rather than rushing to purchase something quickly. I despair of how cheaply some homewares are made now and would far rather have just a few key things I cherish and look after.

My most cherished possession is… the ability to hold a paint brush. I had been thinking about this recently and it’s something I don’t want to take for granted.

Photographer: Tobias Kraus. Courtesy of Gow Langsford Gallery.

The best book I’ve read recently was… 21 Australian Architects Breaking New Ground. I stumbled across it at the library recently and was really interested in the profiling of different Australian architectural practices and their approach to unique sites. Architecture has been an interest of mine for a while and I’ve enjoyed reading more about it recently.

A song I have on repeat at the moment is… ‘Gyalchester’, from Drake’s More Life. Each year I seem to listen to a lot of one particular album by Drake. In 2019 it was Views and then 2020 it’s been More Life

My current podcast recommendation is… The Lively Show. I listened to this a lot during the lockdown and really enjoy Jess Lively’s take on spirituality in a more universal context. In particular her episodes with Annie Francoeur who channels a group of non-physical entities called The Collective.

The last TV show I binge-watched was… Younger (produced by HBO and available on Neon). All my friends have watched it and I’ve converted so many other friends and family into watching it too and everyone loves it. It’s so well cast, great story (and fashion) and a very easy watch.

My favourite place to dine is… Amano. I’ve been there too many times to count and it’s always fantastic. Great food, interiors and atmosphere. It’s the only place you can go at 9.30pm on a Monday night and it’s still busy.

My favourite place to travel to is… New York City. I’ve been once before for a week and it’s the only place I’ve visited where it completely exceeded the very high expectations I had for it. It’s a very special place and I look forward to returning many more times, when we can travel again.

Photographer: Tobias Kraus. Courtesy of Gow Langsford Gallery.

If I could have dinner with any three people, dead or alive, I would choose… Hilma af Klint, Emma Kunz and Joan Mitchell. Three pioneering, female artists operating at various different periods in the last century or so.

I like to start my day by… making coffee and reading something non-fiction before I start the day. I’ve been reading and using the library a lot recently. In the warmer months I like having coffee out on the balcony in the morning sun.

When I was a kid I wanted to be… Growing up I wanted to be a clothing designer and made a lot of my own creations which I was always very comfortable wearing, much to the amusement of my peers. Then in my early teens I wanted to compose music for films. Although I was heavily influenced by my love of the fantasy genre (Lord of the Rings, Narnia, etc) so was really only interested in writing heavily dramatic, rhythmic scores.

If I wasn’t an artist, I would be… a designer of some sort. I would always be doing something creative, but I wouldn’t be as happy doing anything other than what I do now.

The biggest lesson I’ve learnt recently is… good things take time, everything is an evolution.

The Leather Forecast

Roanne Jacobson, founder of cherished Kiwi leather goods brand Saben, shares her vision for a more sustainable future.

Amidst all the chaos of 2020, Saben founder and designer Roanne Jacobson has found a silver lining. “Lockdown allowed us to step off the hamster wheel we’d been on for years,” she says. “That enforced pause gave me the opportunity to reassess what we want to achieve as a brand, and to reflect on our business relationships and the ecosystem we work in.”

After talking to stockists, suppliers and customers, the Saben team developed its new ‘Outward Collaborative’ approach, which Jacobson describes as “working more collaboratively, more sympathetically, and actively trying to understand people’s issues and obstacles”. One example? Rejigging colour drops “so customers can celebrate and share joy earlier, rather than wait until Christmas”.

Timeless design has always been at the core of Saben’s philosophy. For Jacobson, though, the idea of creating fewer, more thoughtful ‘legacy pieces’, designed to be passed on, is now well and truly at the forefront. Saben’s new Recycled Leather collection illustrates this commitment to sustainability and longevity. “Leather is considered an environmental choice as it’s a by-product of the food industry. Plus, it can last several generations if taken care of,” explains Jacobson. “However, there can still be unnecessary waste, and this is where we saw an opportunity.”

For the Recycled Leather collection, Saben diverts offcuts of leather from landfill and repurposes them into beautiful new leather bags. “So far we have used this recycled leather to produce two totes, ‘Kelly’ and ‘Jade’, and we hope to add more styles in the coming seasons,” says Jacobson.

Despite the challenges of the current economic climate, Jacobson is approaching new designs and collections with optimism. “Right now I’m exploring a feeling rather than any set time or place. For the coming drops I chose a colour palette that would lift the mood, and silhouettes that span the whole spectrum from nano to extra large. Minimalists and hoarders aren’t having to concede to the other,” she says. Jacobson’s personal favourite is the Liv handbag, a new piece that hints to heritage but with a 21st- century twist. “Scale-play with oversized piping, quilted panels and edgy embossed leather takes something traditional and makes it sharp and feminine,” she says.

Whether it’s for the woman wanting to impress at her new job, or the mother negotiating the juggle, Jacobson’s design principles always come back to satisfying a need. “We see it as our job to provide women with something practical to help them cope with the chaos and complexity of modern life. At the same time, we hope to enable them to embrace who they are.”