Painting Ideas of Home, Loss and "Ordinariness"


Interview led by: Walter Cabal  |

Greetings Maker’s Movement readers, Walter from Cabal Crafted here with you again, moving onto the second of my interviews with select contributors from Issue 3 of Maker’s Magazine: The Blues Issue. Check in every Tuesday of January to read about a new creative and their relationship with The Blues.

This week we’re interviewing Inge Flinte, a visual artist based in Dunedin New Zealand. Today we chat about “ordinariness”, art and nature’s spiritual ties, and hoping past what feels like the end—more insightful intersections for our #embracetheblues series. So let’s get to it!

Inge, I have a quick question, how does one correctly pronounce your name? I feel a little embarrassed asking that, but it will help our readers (and me especially) not glaze over an important part of you: your name.

My name is of German origins (my father is German and my mother Japanese) - but I pronounce it differently to the Germans. 

See, when I was five years old and just about to start to school, it totally dawned on my that the way my parents pronounce my name simply wasn't going to fly in a NZ context. So, it’s pronounced e-nga (like the nga sound you find in Maori) its my New Zealand-ified way of saying it. The New Zealand rugby player "inga the winga”: That’s how I pronounce my name.

Whew, looks like I was kind of on the right track, though I’m still blushing from embarrassment a little. Ha! Honing back in to your story, can you give us a picture of what your journey toward becoming a visual artist like? 

It’s a long story!

When I left school I started down the road of becoming a designer, studying for a Product Development degree. I quickly became disillusioned with many of the ideas that seemed to be integral to the world of mass production and consumption: convincing people to buy things that they didn't actually need, frequently with money they didn't have; objects that were heavy on design and poor on craft. Though I ended up graduating I didn't bother pursuing a career in the field. 

I decided to move down to Dunedin to get a fresh start and Dunedin, being the creative city that it is, gave me the space and opportunity to consider art school. I'd always been creative and involved in art but it never seemed a viable option, especially to well-meaning parents who wanted a stable career for me. Being a bit older though by the time I'd moved to Dunedin, and I think with a sense that the "safer" bet that a proper degree offered hadn't actually paid off, I decided to pursue something closer to my passions. I spent four years at art school and graduated with an MFA in 2009. I enjoyed every moment of my life there (well, maybe I didn't enjoy the theory that much), especially the luxury of time to develop my work and the particular ideas I wanted to explore. It was the first time in my life that I felt like art was the right path for me, that perhaps I could dare to say I was an artist. 

After finishing the MFA I gave myself a few years off while my kids were young and my practice ticked along in the background. It was only a couple of years ago, while I was mostly doing wedding and portrait photography, that I really found a sense of longing to make my own work return. So in 2015, after a long time of mostly thinking about making art, I stopped thinking and made. I think that process to return to it and be an artist, to commit to doing it rather than just thinking about what I might do, has been the most life changing part of that journey. It's far from easy to fit in all that life demands from me at the moment but, despite the difficulty, it feels good to be making art and being an artist.

As I understand it, you’re based in Dunedin New Zealand. Can you tell us about how being based in New Zealand uniquely affects your work? Is there anything that you feel is uniquely “Kiwi” about your work?

(I haven't answered this question in its entirety because although I was born and raised in NZ - my mother is Japanese and my father is German and so my viewpoint is not what I would describe as being uniquely kiwi!).

Because both of my parents are immigrants to New Zealand I’m not always sure how ‘Kiwi’ my work is. I do wonder though if my reflection on transience is in part indebted to the sense that with multiple heritages come multiple homes, multiple places and movement between them.

Certainly my work at the moment is informed by the city I live in, Dunedin. Like many of the cities in New Zealand it’s a place very tied to the water, and it tends to act as a very organic and dynamic backdrop to life here. I can see the ocean as I sit at my desk and from bedroom window. It’s always nearby as I run errands; pick up the children from school. I'm fascinated by its shape and texture, the way the weather dictates its hue and colour — on cloudy days with shards of sunlight the sea can take on almost a platinum hue; on a perfect blue-sky day it is an astonishing turquoise blue. 

You’ve really got a broad palette of cultures to draw from!  You mentioned a little bit about multiple homes, and transience and their relationship. Can you tell us a little bit about your interest in the concept of “Home” and its constructions? It seems to be one of your current work’s interests. 

My interest in home started as I was beginning my MFA. I found myself deeply homesick for Japan, yet at the same time feeling quite alienated from it. These feelings prompted me to start thinking about the nature of home and consequently how our identities relate to the idea of home. I had the opportunity to visit familial homes in Japan, Germany and NZ, photographing family settings, and their everyday details. For me the project eventually formed around the way the tensions of these many homes point beyond the present, toward a more stable home that is beyond this world.

My favourite characteristic of your work is that it captures instances of ordinary life. You call this “note taking” can you talk a little bit about the way that you “note take”, and perhaps what unique characteristics your way of note taking may have when compared to other artists.

The process I tend to work within, which I think of as “note taking”, takes a different form depending on what medium I'm working with.

In my photographic practice, my “note taking” is the slightly obsessive recording of everyday things — capturing the quiet beauty and interesting tensions that exists in the everyday. By taking photographs the sense is that I’m taking mementoes of certain scenes, often focused on the absence of people. I suppose in that sense, scenes that act as a backdrop for everyday life.

When I'm painting - the resultant image is more of a summation of the everyday. I'm often trying to reflect the landscape around me, whether that’s an external or internal one.

Though I haven’t come across other artists talking about their practice in terms of taking notes, the style I would say isn’t unique to me. The photographer Rinko Kawauchi and the way her work depicts the ordinary moments in life with a serene and poetic sensibility have particularly influenced me. Perhaps one thing that calling it “note-taking” does for my own practice though is keep in the forefront of my mind the transience of what I’m looking at, what can be seen, and the desire that I think we all know as humans for something more lasting and permanent.

I checked out Rinko’s work, and there really is a capturing of “ordinariness” that I’m interested in. There’s quite an elemental nature to her work, too. One culture that I’ve found that has nature integrated in its culture of everyday living is the Japanese culture. In my recent 3 week trek through New Zealand I noticed that nature is very integrated into the Kiwi culture as well. Since you’ve lived in Japan, the UK and (North?) America. Do you see each of those cultures interact with Nature differently?

Japanese culture has a wonderful reverence for nature, demonstrated not least in its celebration of the seasons and the transitions between them. So, for example the way that different produce so heavily shapes what people eat at different times of year, making ume-shu with early summer plums, eating mandarins at New Year time with feet warmed by the kotatsu (a heated table covered with a blanket you sit with your legs beneath). I remember from the time living in Japan, that in October, a tiny orange flower called the kinmoku would blossom and fill the streets with the most amazing, sweet fragrance. At first I didn't know where it was coming from and I would cycle through the narrow alleyways around my apartment complex, trying to track down the source of the magical aroma. 

I think North America does have a connection to nature and I see it mostly through the celebration of the seasons. Halloween and Thanksgiving really usher in Fall and the all pervasive pumpkin-spice.  

In comparison to the UK and the part of America I lived in, I think New Zealand has a stronger tie to the land. The way agriculture has been the backbone of New Zealand. In New Zealand we love to pride ourselves on pristine waterways and forests - and perhaps also the way that native Maori has viewed the land, not as something we own, but as a taonga, a treasure that’s connected to their own spirituality. 

Certainly in the West the process of secularization has tended, I think, to lead to a demystifying of nature. We’ve become so caught up in answering mechanistic questions of “how” that we’ve lost ability to marvel at what simply is. My Christian faith informs that sense of wonder at the nature of the world, and that in spite of the reality of evil in the world, there is a profound goodness and beauty to the natural world.

You have a piece in the next issue of Maker’s Magazine, that talks a little bit about when your brother told you that he had cancer. If you’re comfortable, can you talk about how you coped with that as a creative person?

I wish I could say I coped well but in all honesty I didn't. In many ways I felt a bottomless kind of grief. I’d heard others talk before about how losing a parent can raise feelings of being untethered to the world. I’m not sure I’ve heard many talk about the grief of losing a sibling though. Dealing with the real possibility of losing my brother in his 30s has made me think about what it would mean to deal with the rest of life, the future, without any of the family I grew up with and who have so shaped my identity. It has been one of the most uncomfortable and unsettling experiences of my life to date. My brother and I both have a faith in Christ and both believe that if one of us were to exit this life early, then as devastating as it would be in the present time - that we would still meet again and it would not be the end.

Regarding words like grief or “The Blues”, it’s my idea that creative people can help the modern culture to re-develop a vocabulary for sadness, a vocabulary that can communicate the way that your art does. You mentioned the words “unsettling” and “uncomfortable” and these are pretty vulnerable feelings.  My thought is that readers might be able to find creative ways to speak about their emotions taking cues from creative people like you. What are some other ways that you may have used to speak with other people about your feelings regarding your brother’s cancer?

When I found out about my brother's cancer I had already been working on a photographic series that explored the idea of death. Being a relatively heavy subject it has been something that’s taken quite a long time to mature. But then dealing with the possibility of death of someone so close to you, brings home the fragility of all life, and I think has made the process of dealing with the subject both more nuanced and more poignant. I certainly agree that there’s a real way in which art can give both the artist and the viewer language to deal with things that are difficult to verbalize. In many ways Western culture is a culture in which it is difficult to be legitimately sad. Our obsession with self-actualization and personal choice tends to rob of us language, not only of the transcendent, but of the ugliness of decay and death replacing it with mere preference. It similarly I think removes the profound sense that there is a right time to grieve and mourn, because some things are just wrong and bad and you can’t just “get over it”. The imagery of the series I’m working on I hope can convey something of the painful concreteness and heaviness of death, whilst at the same time suggesting that there is real hope in the face of it.

My wife is a social worker, and trauma is a frequent theme that she visits both among children and among adults. She finds that many, as you’ve said, have not had the proper time and space to rightly grieve and mourn their spirits. Sometimes art therapy is involved as a way to give this appropriate time. Do you find any kind of spiritual solace in art? If you do, which specific pieces of art (poems,stories, movies, paintings sculptures etc..) move this spiritual sense in you? 

I think I find a spiritual solace in making art. You pour out your feelings, whether conscious or subconscious and they all rise to meet you in the work. Making art becomes a form of therapy, of dealing with all those sorrows that you can't quite put your finger on.

 What do you hope to contribute to humanity as a creative person?

I suppose the things I want to contribute though they connect to being a creative person are more focused on being a person first and foremost: extending kindness and generosity; being gentle in spirit, forgiving and loving others freely, living with honest grace: To try to be properly human.

The creative part of that life I hope is one in which my work sparks a conversation, a thought, a feeling, that helps the one interacting with it. 

What gets you through the dark parts of the broad indigo ocean of your life? Is there something you can share with our readers to encourage them in their own trek through the dark parts?

When I was younger, I used to hate living through times of heartache and sadness. I wanted to hide from them and make them go away. They were obstacles to the smooth worry free existence I had planned for myself. As I’ve gotten older and experienced more of life, I've realized that, in fact, these experiences are not just a part of life but a necessity. The process of the blues, though not comfortable, is where the soul grows — where I’m refined and changed. As one author puts it “grace grows best in winter.”

I’m not sure I’ll ever grow to think those times are pleasant, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn to embrace them as something aimed at my good.

Thank you Inge so much for taking the time to be vulnerable with us, and for creating art that helps people like me contemplate and think about ordinariness as a source of inspiration in the middle of The Blues.  As someone who tries to retain the beauty of the ordinary world, I know that I am learning something by just viewing your pieces. 

Thanks heaps.