Whitecliffe Educated: The Student Experience

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Whitecliffe Educated: The Student Experience

Artist Jonathan (Jono) Dunbar is a recent BFA graduate and current Whitecliffe MFA student. During his undergraduate studies, he was the top Fine Arts student in Years 3 and 4 and was a finalist in the 2014 Eden Arts Art Schools Awards. Here he tells us about his experience at Whitecliffe, making art, his studio-based practice and future studies.

Born in Hong Kong and raised in Wellington, he studied at Wellington Boys College. As for choosing an area of study or career option after high school, Jono recalls, “Fine Arts was something I never actively sought to do. I ‘fell’ into it, or rather stumbled across it. I seemed to enjoy the art topics at high school and after studying a year in Wellington (Set Design for Stage and Screen at Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School), I found that painting was what I was most interested in. It was not necessarily a skill I was aware I had in me. My grades weren’t the best in first year, but being pushed to continually research, to think, make work and to talk about art in different ways set the foundation of where I am today. Studying at Whitecliffe has opened me up to a career path, an industry in a world that, after four years of exploring, is utterly wild. What happens within the greater art world is nuts and being exposed to all of it affirmed Fine Arts as a career option for me.”

In 2011, he made the move to Auckland to start Year One of his BFA studies at Whitecliffe. Jono notes that the reason for selecting Whitecliffe was a “gut feeling sense of a tight, yet open community that resonated with me after my interview. That gut feeling was in stark contrast with other Auckland art institutions, when I had my interviews there. As a point of difference, I realized quickly that the other art schools in Auckland were big, too big for me. The idea of being yet another ‘exam number’ just did not appeal to me.”

What really excited Jono about coming to Whitecliffe “was the prospect of studio space, specifically a very generous amount. Whilst initially I had more ‘romantic’ ideas of what it could mean to be an art student and where that could lead, I’ve come to realize that ample studio space is a cornerstone of my practice. The ability to continually experiment and develop a studio-based painting practice that could accommodate and generate not only large-scale paintings, but also installations to explore sculptural enquiries, was only possible by having full time access to Whitecliffe’s SGBR Studios.” Jono explains further “having space is key for my practice and the experience of exploring space (not just in relation to architecture) and the spatiality of painting has been the most challenging and rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”

He is currently working on small-scale oil paintings that “fit into an abstracted landscape framework.” He has come to the conclusion that “they’re not landscape in the traditional form, but rather mental or internal landscapes. Vistas that aren’t tied down to recognizable elements such as land, sky, and naturalistic or man-made elements, but rather perspectives that are rooted to an individuals experience of being within the world.” As a forward-thinking artist, he is also looking forward to trying something different to challenge himself, with a “move into translating some of my painting theories and concepts to a ceramic language. I love the idea of flattening or negating the very sculptural, or 3D properties of a vase or pot to fit a more conventional painting framework.”

Jono’s advice to a student considering studying Fine Arts is to “immerse yourself within the institution, but most importantly, in your own way. I say that as I’m not the most out-going, sociable person, and being more introverted can be a challenge when it comes to taking the creative arts seriously as a career path. In relation to this, for me, it was work ethic coupled with research that lead to practical experimentation. This only really starts to make sense or get really interesting if you can continually produce high volumes of work. I had two years worth of experimentation, which included working out other ways of producing, before coming to painting.”

As for the future, Jono is working towards his MFA here at Whitecliffe for the next two years. He says he will also be looking for other opportunities including overseas residencies and teaching positions. He says “I’ll probably always have a connection to Auckland so retaining some of the relationships I’ve made at Whitecliffe are also very important. To be in a group of like-minded people is going to be a major factor that will dictate if I (or anyone else) will reach my goals ”.

You can view more works from Jono’s studio here.

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