Interview | Craig McClure

Craig McClure, an illustrator, artist and previous mentee of the Artists Alliance Mentoring Programme, answered a few questions about his mentoring experience and his art practice.

You completed a mentorship this year with the Artists Alliance programme for recent graduates. What was it that compelled you to submit an application? Was the experience what you had expected?

How I became aware of the mentorship opportunity was through Tauranga Art Gallery Director, Karl Chitham. Karl as I understand it had reached out to Artist Alliance to offer access to the programme to artists based in Tauranga (where I was at the time). Karl’s encouragement gave me confidence and I was enticed by the opportunity to connect with artists or curators (turns out both) in another city.

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I really can’t say I remember what I was expecting but I can safely say now that I got a great deal! The mentorship really opened doors and exposed me to new avenues I could take as an arts professional. I probably imagined I would be in someones studio cleaning brushes, getting coffees doing errands, but it was nothing of the sort. Matt Blomeley, my mentor, is a real gentleman and was incredibly supportive and open; he made sure the mentorship worked for me.

What was the most valuable thing your mentor brought to the table?

Matt has a very broad experience in the industry, he knows what it is like to be on both sides of the fence, as the artist as well as the curator, gallery director or project manager. This was a huge asset to me having a mentor with such insightful perspectives to the industry. Matt could provide advice or share stories on anything I had interests in or questions on.

Have there been any surprising outcomes from the mentorship?

Yes, Matt and I started with him giving me advice around an exhibition (Atlas) I had in the works at the Tauranga Art Gallery. This was around professional development on the business side of being an artist. Introducing me to ideas around databases and creating resources to support myself (this was total gold!). With some changes that were happening at Bath Street Gallery (where Matt was curator) we ended up shifting the mentorship into a collaboration project, curating an exhibition titled Katharsis for the Calder and Lawson Gallery at Waikato University. For this I was encouraged by Matt to approach galleries and established artists that I would not of had the confidence to approach, I was able to acquire several works by well established New Zealand and Australian artists as a part of the exhibition. This lesson was possibly the biggest one for me – all I had to do was ask while being confident in the project and the galleries and artists were on board, simple as that.

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You’re currently working at Creative Waikato, which is an advocate for creative economy in its community. What I enjoy is how your position relates to your art practice. Your characters are solitary ‘less than super’ superheroes that cave under pressure and are an antithesis to a strong group organisation which actually make a difference in their community. Aside from my observation, would you see your background as a maker to be a benefit in your role? What are some of the challenges you face in your position?

Nice! Great observation… love it! As much as the anti-heroes I draw appear slightly pathetic, this is in part an attempt to humanise figures we look up to or that are in positions of power. They are only human after all. I guess I feel we can be very critical on mistakes others make, or hold them to unrealistic standards (much higher than we hold ourselves at times).

Having real world experience and maintaining a practice as an artist I think helps to gain confidence from those we are supporting and working with. It also means I am very invested in the success of our creative community as I am both working for it, benefitting in it and contributing to it. It’s pretty sweet being immersed in all this art focused goodness.

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Challenges I have in my role are varied, especially with me still learning so much on the job. I can be working with young emerging first time exhibitors one day, then with established groups the next. We cover a large region and can only be in one place at a time so that is a definite challenge. There are a lot of amazing and talented people in the Waikato and the Coromandel getting to all of them is very tough. Another challenge is having to walk the line of facilitator versus initiator or participant. Still working that one out a bit but my team mates are some amazing people and they have been really supportive and welcoming. I am very fortunate to have a job here.

It looks like 2016 was quite a productive year for you. Can you tell us about any projects you’re currently working on?

 2016 has been a big one both personally and professionally, lots of blessings! Most recently I have an exhibition in the Flexi Space at the Wallace Gallery in Morrinsville. It’s an adapted installation of the exhibition I had in Tauranga. I also exhibit regularly in group shows in Hamilton at Skinroom an independent artist-run space in Frankton. I am also setting up a small business in artwork care and handling, working with collections on long term loan in public and private spaces. I have a baby on the way, a house that needs renovating and more exhibitions in the pipeline inducing one in Auckland in early 2017.

Is there anything you’d like to add that I haven’t asked about your mentorship?

Thanks very much for the opportunity and thanks to Matt Blomeley for being an absolute legend!