Home' Greymouth Star : February 3rd 2015 Contents Greymouth Star
West Coast Arts
Tuesday, February 3, 2015 - 7
Words in art
Creative parents and a keen eye for art herself has given former school teacher and journalist Jo Keppel inspiration to
do more than dabble in art. Since leaving her full-time job as a Greymouth Star reporter, she has been busy developing
her own “distinctive” style.
or as long as she can remember
Jo Keppel has wanted to “do
Keppel believes that was
probably influenced during
her Otago upbringing by her
creative, qualified carpenter father, who
made new things from old, like coffee tables
from old cupboards, or various tools and
gadgets from old metal and other materials.
He always had “a project ” on the go, as big
Her mother was creative, too, mainly in
cloth and fibre, a professional dressmaker
and machinist and keen knitter and
“In those days, being a little sister in a
family of moderate means, meant that
recycled clothes were often my lot, but I
was quite pleased my mother had made the
effort to suit them to me.
“O ur play was creative, too. We could build
a whole Western saga from a coalbox, two
sawhorses and possum-fur Davey Crocket
Keppel said both her parents often
used rough drawings on paper to express
instructions or work out ideas.
“Dad’s brother was a respected Otago
painter and dabbled in other mediums,
too, as well as being a jewellery designer
and manufacturer, and mum’s sister was a
“So, producing art in all its forms had
credence in our family.”
At primary school, Keppel said art lessons
mainly consisted of the teacher writing a
choice of picture titles on the blackboard
and an allotted time being given to produce
something which could be identified as
being about one of those titles.
“Because I was interested in art, my parents
let me go to Saturday morning primary
school art classes at the D unedin Art
School, which gave me a bit of confidence
but wasn’t much different from school.”
She said that art did not exist at her
secondary school although she spent 40
minutes a week in the art room looking at
books and being told to do some drawing on
the newsprint supplied — “ if we felt like it ”.
“Most of us did our Latin and French
homework then. The art teacher later
became curator of the D unedin Art Gallery.
I always wondered what he put on his
application about his teaching experience.”
When Keppel left school, she started at
the Dunedin Evening Star as a full-time
cadet journalist and also worked part-time
on her English degree, so any art, apart from
a bit of doodling at meetings, went on the
“Later, in Oamaru, I became a secondary
school English teacher so ‘spare’ time was
filled with marking and preparing lessons,
although I eventually joined an art group
there for some field trips and workshops.
“In the mid-1980s, when I returned to
journalism for a couple of years, I enrolled
at NZ Correspondence School as an adult
student in their fourth form art course to
find out about ‘art rules’ and how to use
“This was a wonderful year and I eagerly
awaited the return of the envelopes and
the next ‘sets’ arriving. I carried this on into
School Certificate, Sixth Form Certificate
and University Bursary art.
“I had, meanwhile, also started two
extramural post-graduate diplomas from
Massey University, including art history
and other communication papers, so, back
Keppel then shelved her own art , apart
from some occasional weaving, leather work
and basket making.
Also in the 1980s, Keppel bought a holiday
home at Inangahua Junction and from there
with frequent trips to the West Coast she
explored a host of bush tracks, old mining
and timber sites, and the coastline and she
believes those experiences influenced her
“My parents worked in a Dunedin
horticultural nursery and continued this on
a smaller scale when they retired and moved
to Oamaru. They talked about plants by
their botanical names and it was years before
I matched up these with the common names
like oak, elm and maple.
“My sister and I could distinguish small
differences in plants from a young age and
this obser vation was also part of outings and
holidays, looking in rock pools, under stones,
and at plants, insects, animals and birds
all around the South Island’s back country
After another stint in journalism at the
Christchurch Mail, Keppel moved to the
West Coast in 1999 as head of English at
Inangahua College, and taught art history
there as well.
“English, as a teaching subject, has become
much more visual over the years, and it was
good to be able to combine my accumulated
language and art knowledge for the benefit
“However, as a teacher, I still found it
hard to find time and the ‘headspace’ to test
my own art ideas. Consequently, in 2005, I
returned to journalism at the Greymouth
Evening Star (part-owned by the same
Smith family as the D unedin Evening Star
was in the 1960s), and I enjoyed my time as
the West Coast Messenger writer. ”
Keppel said that Messenger role gave
her the ‘space’ she needed to pursue her art
In September last year, she left the
Messenger and since she has been busy with
various writing and art projects.
“D uring my more formal art studies, I
spent a lot of time obser ving and ‘copying’
what I saw to paper. This was valuable for
getting to ‘know ’ objects, places, tones and
colours but I still felt it was pretty much just
‘copying’ which a camera can do with great
less effort. So I tried to work more freely and
intuitively, limiting myself for a time to pen
and ink work, which can’t easily be changed
if you make an error.”
Gradually, Keppel said that she has
started to develop a more distinctive style
using pens, graphite, coloured pencil,
monoprinting techniques, collage and
occasional paint and pastels.
“I assign myself ‘experimental’ sessions,
just to see what effects are possible, and
sometimes I just make blots or serendipitous
prints and then develop them.
“Like my parents before me, I like to
‘recycle’ or ‘reinvent ’ in my art wherever I
She recalled as a very small child that,
along with her sister, they had an embossed
squiggly bedroom wallpaper and close to
her pillow, she had identified a myriad of
objects, creatures, plants and so on.
“They drew me in and the more I saw, the
more I could see. Some of my pictures now
have something of this effect, at least on me
and maybe on other viewers, too.
“ With twin careers in language and words,
I like to mix apt words or unusual words
with my pictures, often with light-hearted
or humorous effect.
“Sometimes, I fear these unusual words
may frighten people away, but they are never
malicious, just a send up of pompous people
like myself using words you don’t often
encounter. Most of the time, I just try to
keep it simple,” Keppel said.
These days, she produces mainly small
(“and hopefully affordable”) mixed media
pictures on a range of themes and subjects.
“ I work quickly on a series idea, asking
myself, ‘what next?’, ‘what else?’ ‘where next?’
as I go. Usually a new idea starts to bubble
up before the last series is quite ‘completed’
so there is always an overlap and connection.
Sometimes a new idea strikes me about an
old series, so nothing is ever over.”
She looks at other art constantly, because
she likes to and is always learning.
“ I am influenced by all and any sorts of
things around me — building textures, little
corners of magazine photos, plants, insects,
light falling on a puddle or on the dishes in
the sink, the paintings of old masters and
“Art inspiration is everywhere and I believe
the opportunity and ability to express
oneself through art is there for all of us. You
have to be willing to try and then just ‘do it ’.
It doesn’t just miraculously happen. It needs
practice and an openness to keep learning
and trying. It can be very frustrating but also
at times, very satisfying.”
Artist ’s book figure.
Reubhen Waite arriving.
Masks or menaces.
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