Over cups of tea at Tame Iti’s place during Easter 2018, Artist Xoe Hall learned of the ancient Tūhoe legend Hinepūkohurangi who is said to have lured Te Maunga (the mountain) to earth from the heavens – thereby sparking the genesis of the Tūhoe people.
On New Zealand’s east coast, Tāneatua Gallery sits at the mouth of the entrance to the Uruwera’s where the Tūhoe people are from. Hall had exhibited at the gallery a few years ago with the Toi Wāhine collective, but on a different trip visiting her grandma in Ohope, she asked if she could paint a wall at the gallery and got an extra surprise when Tame ended up painting with her. Going against trends and mainstream expectation in their work is something Tame Iti and Xoe Hall have had in common for a long time. Recognised for her ode-to-iconocism style pieces or ‘Hero Art’, painting a Tūhoe legend and hero with a Tūhoe legend and hero is another out of this world achievement she can add to her ‘did’ list.
DS: How did this trip to Taneatua come about/what was the motivation behind the collab mural?
XOE: I visit my nana in Ohope a couple of times a year and always pop in to catch up with the crew at the gallery for a hang. One of those times I asked if I could paint a wall, and they said yes, so this time I took my painting gears and was over the moon when I realised Tame was going to be painting with me!
DS: When was the first time you went to Taneatua Gallery?
XOE: Our all female Māori art collective from Porirua (then known as Toi Wāhine, now we are Hine Pae Kura), were asked to exhibit at the start of 2017. So we all jumped in a van with our work and camped out at the gallery for a few days. We had the best time ever.
DS: What did you know about Tame Iti before you met him?
XOE: Just the tip of the iceberg really, what most people would know, that Tame is an extremely interesting character. He is an iconic activist and artist who dresses super stylish when the occasion calls for it. I knew about the gallery and that my grandad was super stoked to have shaken Tame’s hand at a store one day.
DS: What did you love about collaborating with him?
XOE: I loved that he invited me into his home, and over a few cups of tea he told me the story of Hinepūkohurangi and the Children of the Mist. Local Tūhoe legend. I still didn’t realise at this point that he would be painting with me. When we got to the gallery, we both picked up a brush, and painted the story. I loved that while we were actually painting, not many words needed to be exchanged about how we were approaching it, and every now and then we would both step back and say damn that’s looking good.
DS: How long have you been painting and how did you get into it?
XOE: I have been painting since I was about three haha! I realised when I was 18 that I might actually be an artist, that little realisation was actually rather huge, once that clicked, I started really honing my self-taught skills.
DS: Describe your artistic style and what and how you do your craft in your words?
XOE: Gosh that’s hard, as I have my fingers in many creative pies…. I would say I am multi-media cowboy pop surrealism artist??? It’s something I’ve never really wanted to pinpoint as I am forever evolving. Obviously I’m a little all over the show. I paint with acrylics, I use glitter for real life sparkle, I draw alot! I write stories and poems. I dabble in lead lighting. I love leather, so I paint on that too. I do embroidery, and apply many rhinestones to fabulous garments for fabulous people. Everything is self taught, but I am always learning through experiences and people I meet along the way.
DS: How have fashion and fashion icons been an influence on you?
XOE: Well, I am pretty obsessed with all things over the top and fabulous. I thought I was going to be a David Bowie when I grew up, so if I am going out, I go all out! Also, I hate anything on trend….even if I love it, I won’t wear what everyone else is, naturally that’s where my love of opshopping and making my own crazy clothes comes from. However when I am at home, it’s another story. Uggboots and hand knitted jerseys with no makeup and something horrendously comfortable on the lower half.
DS: You’re currently selling pieces at Hunters and Collectors in Wellington, what motivated you to do that and what pieces will you miss the most?
XOE: That’s all thanks to Chrissy and Charlotte. It was all their idea! Actually, I have been exhibiting works in that shop for quite some years now, so I can’t remember everything! But I am having a solo exhibition there in June, DUST BITER…so stay tuned for more.
DS: You’ve also been making custom designed jackets, how did you get into that and who has been your favourite person to design for so far?
XOE: I have been decorating special garments for many amazing people for about 10 years?? I guess I am currently buzzing out of my socks about the dress I got to decorate for Tami Neilson. Her new album SASSAFRASS, photos were taken by my bestie Ash AKA Dinosaurtoast and the shoot if featured on our fabulous website FEVER HOTEL.
DS: What has been your favourite piece you’ve made to date?
XOE: Oh, I don’t have one! That’s like choosing a favourite colour, my mind changes too often. Anything that I don’t mind looking at still? Haha.
DS: So every artist has to work right? In the day you work at a TeacherTalk, what is that and how did you get into it?
XOE: Yes, 4 and a half years ago we started TeacherTalk, it’s just a small gang of us ladies in the office. We make up to date and awesome learning resources for kids. I work about 3-4 days a week, depending on how much work I have on with other commissions and exhibitions. I am the illustrator and creative writer. That work lead onto TeacherTalk publishing 3 of my childrens books. They are re-tellings of Māori legends.
DS: What do you love about working there?
XOE: That kids all over NZ are being taught with and growing up with my artwork. That’s very very cool. And that I do have the flexibility and time to be able to work on my own stuff in the studio when I need too.
DS: What do you love about working with and illustrating in te reo as well as Maori myths and legends?
XOE: When I was growing up, my dad would always tell us a very embellished princess story of our Ngāi Tahu ancestor Motoitoi, he was a great story teller. And knowing about this part of my history filled me with a magical feeling. I would feel the same when I would open one of Peter Gossages beautiful books. In fact my favourite all time illustrated book is still How Maui Defied the Goddess of Death. So it is really a dream come true to be able to tell stories myself, what’s not to love?!
DS:What do you love about being an artist and what advice would you give to others wanting to do it full time?
XOE: Nothing I say is going to sound better than how Patti Smith puts it…
“Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises, don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful — be concerned with doing good work and make the right choices and protect your work. And if you build a good name, eventually, that name will be its own currency.” – Patti Smith …..I would just add on…throw away your TV!