Whitecliffe Alumni Priscilla Hunter Ventures into the Colourful World of Art-Fashion with Her Label Poison Spike
Despite the endless challenges that the last few years have brought, visual artist and Poison Spike co-founder Priscilla Hunter remains creatively inspired and boldly hopeful about the future of art and fashion in Aotearoa.
The vibrant and experimental art-fashion label will have its debut exhibition + open showroom event from 20th May – 23rd May 2022 at Ari Studio (1A Bond Street) in Kingsland.
Priscilla studied at the Whitecliffe School of Fine Arts and graduated from the Bachelor of Fine Arts programme in 2011. Priscilla’s lifelong passion for drawing sparked her interest in studying 3D animation, and she wanted to pursue this after high school. However, she was hesitant to put herself out there, and didn’t know where to start. Priscilla’s mother, Sue Barrett, encouraged her to attend Whitecliffe’s open day where prospective students can visit the school and envision life there. “I was so shy,” Priscilla recalls, “I honestly didn’t want to go, but mum made me, and I’m so glad she did because once I got a taste of Whitecliffe, I was certain that this is where I should be.”
For Priscilla, The Bachelor of Fine Arts programme was particularly memorable because of the range of art mediums that were covered. “I enjoyed the opportunity to delve into other subjects that weren’t necessarily my speciality, but I still found value in, like screen-printing and backroom processes” she says. “We also touched on some fashion design components in the programme which were really interesting too, at the time I didn’t realise how useful those skills would become later.”
After graduating from the three-year programme, Priscilla went out into the world, worked hard, and exhibited her art at every opportunity she got, but she acknowledges that it was challenging at times. “Although I absolutely love being an artist, it isn’t the easiest thing. I lost my way a little bit when I got a full-time job, I thought that the weekend would be enough time to work on my personal art, but it just didn’t happen the way I intended it to,” she says.
Soon after, Priscilla received a call from Whitecliffe encouraging her to further her studies and pursue the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) programme, which she excitedly accepted. “I felt really fortunate that I got the phone call to see if I wanted to do the Master programme because it came at the right time and got me right back into the mindset of constantly creating,” she reflects.
Priscilla describes Whitecliffe as an interesting, personal and rewarding environment to study the MFA programme in. “I love that the structure of the programme allowed me to feel like a natural artist, especially working in the studio, and I really valued the one-on-one time from the tutors and supervisors that visited me in that space” she recalls. “I found the feedback super helpful, and sometimes frustrating, but I always appreciated the fact that it was a genuine and trustworthy support system that cared about bringing my work to a new level.”
After completing the MFA in 2018, Priscilla became stricter with her goals. To help her achieve her plan of having at least three exhibitions per year, she continued to follow the structure of the MFA programme by creating bodies of work to put towards a larger project. One of her most recent exhibitions, Borrowed Soul, focused on how colour, pattern and nature can be used in clothing to express diverse cultural identities. Priscilla’s mother Sue, a fashion designer with over 40 years of experience, helped her to successfully bring the designs to life.
Although making clothes was never Priscilla’s specialty or priority while studying, after she finished her Borrowed Soul exhibition, she found herself wanting to continue down the avenue of fashion design. “I really enjoyed the process of creating the garments alongside my mum, so I suggested to her that we work together to make more wearable clothes, and she was really into that idea,” she says. Then Poison Spike was born.
Poison Spike offers clothing, accessories and prints that embody psychedelic colour combinations and modern maximalism. Inspiration for Poison Spike’s style arose from Priscilla’s fascination with plants and the exotic world, and the simultaneous inability to satisfy her travel cravings during the height of the pandemic. “Because I felt stuck in New Zealand, I was forced to look at my own surroundings and see the beauty in everything – even minor things like how flowers fall on the pavement and look like big fried eggs, or ramshackle veggie gardens overgrown in the community, it all became so interesting and inspiring to me and my ideas for Poison Spike,” she explains.
Expanding further on Poison Spike’s style story, Priscilla credits the natural world and her undying loyalty to it. “There is a big botanical bias to everything I do, and that’s because I don’t think there is any need for me to go past the natural world,” she says. “Nature is everywhere but we all view it differently, I like to look at different plants and use colour, shape and form to warp the way we perceive it, and then translate that perspective onto clothes.”
Poison Spike utilises ethical production of their garments, and Priscilla strongly believes that the artist’s hand needs to be visible in every piece they sell. “Either me or my mum have had some form of physical involvement in every piece we produce, we cut everything out ourselves and I paint,” she says. To prevent mass-production, Poison Spike also works closely with local knitters and small CMT companies to keep track of who is involved with the manufacturing elements, “I’d rather make smaller quantities and sell out instead of compromising any of our current production processes,” she explains. Priscilla also makes it a priority to use up all the fabric scraps, brainstorming new and creative ways to implement scraps into the clothes has become one of her favourite tasks.
Whitecliffe believes that individuals possess the ability to create meaningful change in a way that is unique to them. “For me, creating meaningful change is about doing what I love and not worrying about what other people have thought of,” Priscilla says, “it’s about listening to my heart and trusting that people will see that sincerity in my work.”
Priscilla offers some honest and encouraging advice to aspiring artists who are currently studying. “Being an artist is not an easy choice, but it is a very brave choice. If you are passionate about it, you must keep going. Stay true to what you like to do, that should always be the bottom line. There will always be someone who likes what you do, so you shouldn't compromise your vision,” she says.
Priscilla is excited to confirm that Poison Spike’s open showroom + exhibition event is finally going ahead after months of postponements and growing anticipation. From Friday 20th May to Sunday 23rd May 2022, Poison Spike clothing, as well as some of Priscilla’s other visual artwork (a lot of which is cohesive with the garments), will be displayed at Ari Studio in Kingsland throughout the entire weekend. “I think it's nice for people to be able to touch the pieces and interact with them physically. It will be good for people to get to know us in an open showroom setting as well,” she says.
“Poison Spike is about bringing a fun and vibrant feeling to people through style expression. After two years of wearing track pants, I hope people are ready because this is just the beginning.”
To find out more about Poison Spike and the debut exhibition, click here.
To find out more about the Whitecliffe School of Fine Arts, click here.
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