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Zoo photos spark return to art

The animal kingdom and its wild beauty are on display in Carterton this month – thanks to the steady hand and discerning eye of up-and-coming artist Jo Bridgwater.

“Animalia”, the latest exhibition at Heart of Art’s gallery space, opened on March 3: Featuring a collection of Bridgwater’s drawings, inspired by her love of animals and frequent trips to Wellington and Auckland Zoos.

The exhibition, including works in both graphite and watercolour pencil on different coloured paper, is a homage to, in the words of the old hymn, “all creatures great and small”. Among them, butterflies and New Zealand native birds, a tortoise looking deep in thought, a doe-eyed giraffe, and a tiger with a simultaneously majestic and meditative expression.

“Animalia”, named for the scientific grouping that includes all animals, is the first exhibition “in many years” for Bridgwater.

The Masterton local and childcare worker, who has a degree in photography, had been heavily involved in the artistic world in her youth – but bouts of chronic illness forced her to take long breaks from her craft.

She said “Animalia” arose after discovering an old series of photographs, taken during her various zoo visits, on her computer. In need of a new project, she was compelled to take out her sketchpad.

“I found the photo of the tiger and thought ‘yeah, I’m going to draw him,’” Bridgwater said.

“After that, I thought I may as well do a whole series of animal drawings.

“I was happy with how it all came together. I think people will enjoy seeing the animals’ personalities – I’m a big animal lover, and it was fun bringing those characters to life.

“Also, I like how they look like they’re out of the zoo context – they’re doing a lot of things that animals would do when out in the wild.”

Bridgwater said she has been creative since childhood, and studied art all through school – eventually completing a Fine Arts degree at the Auckland University of Technology, majoring in photography.

In her late 20s, her health took a turn for the worse – and she described the following 10 years as “a bit of a write-off”. However, she was able to keep creating in short bursts “in between bouts of pain”, experimenting with drawing, landscape painting, and mosaics, as well as spinning and wool felting.

She has also been involved behind the scenes in the theatre community, and assisted with set and costume design for Waipawa Musical and Dramatic Club’s production of Phantom of the Opera.

Determined to further nurture her creativity on moving to Masterton four years ago, Bridgwater become a regular attendee at King Street Artworks [KSA], where she was encouraged to set up a solo exhibition by studio coordinator Ian Chapman.

Bridgwater now works out of a small studio in her back garden, and has started taking advanced drawing classes at Katz Atelier in Wellington to further hone her craft.

Now she has the studio set up, she eventually hopes to build a business doing commissioned pet portraits, as well as trying other media, such as ceramics.

She also still enjoys photography, one of her first loves. “I’m a bit trigger-happy!” she laughed.

“Animalia” by Jo Bridgwater will be on display at Heart of Arts, 47 High St North, Carterton, until Thursday, March 30. Heart of Arts is Wednesday to Friday from 10am-4pm, and weekends from 10am-2pm.

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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