One of my personal highlights in the latest season of Ngā Toi | Arts Te Papa exhibitions up on Level 5, is Auckland-based artist Gretchen Albrecht’s spectacular painting In a shower of gold (2011). My favourite aspect of the painting is the confidence in which Gretchen has applied such deliciously bold colour and generous brush strokes. The painting has a remarkable sense of contained energy and feels perfectly fresh, as if she has just stepped away from the canvas. I hope that you will come and see it for yourself.

On a recent visit to Auckland I popped in to visit Gretchen and her husband, artist James Ross, at their Grey Lynn home. Gretchen’s studio is on the upper level of their house and it was a real treat to go behind-the-scenes with one of New Zealand’s most talented painters.

Ever curious about an artist’s process, I asked Gretchen how she made Te Papa’s painting. Especially given the fact that it is the largest of her hemisphere paintings to date — I’m hesitant to say ‘ever’ as Gretchen has previously said that ‘every time you make a painting, you’re taking a risk… You really have to over-reach to move on.’

Gretchen’s stretchers were originally made for her by her mathematician father but for the past 25 years have been made by her brother. The canvas is a Belgian linen canvas which she has left unprimed so that its warm brown colour shows through in sections of the finished painting. It does need several washes though to release its natural colour. Once the canvas has been stretched till it is ‘taut as a drum’, Gretchen props it up on blocks of wood on the floor and then begins a series of thin acrylic paint layers, which she describes as ‘washes of colour’. ‘The way it floods the canvas’, she says, ‘helps me determine the next move’. This particular painting took ‘a lot of twists and turns’ and involved the construction of a sort of ‘Heath Robinson scaffolding of planks and blocks’ to get into the centre of each quadrant.

Gretchen Albrecht – artist talk
Auckland-based painter Gretchen Albrecht talks about the process of creating her work In a shower of gold (2011) – now in Te Papa’s collection, and about how the history of her own work sustains her now.

Feature image: Detail from: Gretchen Albrecht, In a shower of gold, 2011, acrylic on canvas. Te Papa (2013-0018-1).