I first got to know Billie Culy when she was helping with her parents Homebase Collections pop up in Auckland in 2013. I was captured by the close, creative aesthetic shared by the family as a whole, so often with the nature at its root. To this very day I am inspired to indulge the very fluid, beautiful way that they celebrate it – not only their art but their homes!
The work shared below is a continuation of Billie’s exploration of using flowers, foliage, sets, vessels and a painters eye to capture the essence of a person, a place or a moment in time. ‘Gild’ is showing now at Hawkes Bay’s; Parlour Projects until the 20th of May but for those that can’t make it I took some time to quiz this young artist on her inspirations, her process, her love of living away from the big smoke plus some Hawkes Bay highlights for weekend interlopers!
As a young creative you chose to swim against the flow of many, and moved from the city back to the regions. What was the pull to return home and share a little about your life in Hawkes Bay.
I think my main motivation to leave Auckland was just to give myself room to breath, I only lived up there for four years but I think it’s easy to get stuck in a space you feel comfortable and in a job you don’t mind but that stagnant feeling creeps in – you feel like you aren’t going anywhere, and maybe the urge to create is fading. So a complete change of environment was what we decided was needed!
Strangely enough, we actually had an opportunity to learn beekeeping with a local keeper in Hawke’s Bay so that was all we needed to motivate us to pack up and head back down there to live the dream.
It was a complete contrast to what we were doing in Auckland, study, work, city life. Literally the day after we arrived in Napier we were in a honey processing room, scraping the wax off honey frames and spinning it out, then out to help tend to Beagle’s hives. It was so fascinating – I can’t remember learning so much in such a short period of time in my whole life.
I’m obviously now not a beekeeper but I think it was something that really shocked me back into the creative zone. For some reason – it sparked something in me! Learning about bees and how their life cycle works and how they play such a huge role in the survival of our environment, it gives you a completely different perspective on life and I found it really inspiring.
It made me fall in love with Hawkes Bay again.
It’s so beautiful here, the landscape is so diverse. I live in Haumoana, a little community by a wild stony beach. It’s a quiet place but that’s what I love about it here, you can escape.
Having the space to make work and make a mess is so important so I’m lucky to have a great studio at home. It’s also so great to be near my parents, we have been able to help out a lot with things they work on at Balquhidder and it’s just really fun to bounce ideas of them in a way I could never do when I was living in Auckland.
Flowers and foliage are enjoying a well deserved time in the limelight at the moment with artists, gardeners and stylists a like! This is something that makes me VERY happy!
However your work has always stood out and above for me – the sets, the light, the vessels and the super layered and interesting combinations you put together are captivating.
Can you share with us your thoughts and process behind your photographic work?
I think it all starts with my complete admiration for the beauty of plants and flowers. Firstly, I wanted to capture their form at a certain time of the year, almost freezing a moment in time. I have always loved to collect foliage growing around me – I find certain plants remind me so much of a particular time or place. For example, Haumoana has such distinctive plants that grow along it’s coastline and I love the idea of capturing the essence of this our community in a single flower arrangement.
I use plants that evoke a feeling of nostalgia, sometimes it will be that they remind me of a favourite painting, my mum or town or someone’s garden I have a connection to. My arrangements are always a little playful and I like to let them do their thing. Sometimes something will droop, or fall off but these are the little moments I love to capture.
The vessels I use have such an importance too. I like that each one comes from a different era and this plays a role in how you view the work. I want people to have a moment where the image feels as though it’s from another time.
Colour is a huge part of my work. I think I see colour before any thing else, its very intuitive for me and I feel that’s why I see my works more as a painting. With my current exhibition I really played with the idea of my process being similar to the way you would put together a painting, using layers of texture in my backdrops and combining the two mediums of photography and painting. This time I also shot with medium format film for my current exhibition at Parlour (Projects), which was a completely different process for me.
You have been bought up in a family of prolific artists – some of my all time favourites actually!
What values, advice, work ethic and processes can you pin point specifically learning from them and how does this affect your own creative work?
I have had such an interesting life growing up with my parents doing what they do**, they are so diverse in their talents, and I think that taught me that creativity doesn’t just come in one form, you can express it in any form you feel like in any part of your life.
Everything they do has an element of creative expression and it’s something I so admire and really believe it can make you a better artist. The more you do the better you become. Being around them my whole life while they work – whether that be directing, photographing, painting or cooking even, I have learnt and still do learn so much. They have definitely shown me that an artists life is not always easy. I think to being creative can also mean you are quite sensitive (well for me anyway) so it’s a constant learning curve! Even just learning to believe in what you are doing, and to actually trust yourself, is a process I’m still getting my head around!
I consider myself so lucky to have mum and dad – my life mentors!
** Brian and Leanne Culy are well respected creative professionals across art direction, production, photography, film, design and painting/drawing. Their design, art and photography work falls under Homebase Collections. You can read more of their story in a previous interview of ours at their BEAUTIFUL Napier Home; Balquhidder House.
We all have those people that we love to check in with for inspiration and motivation!! Whose work do you follow and what attracts you to them?
For floral inspiration I always check in with Doctor Lisa Cooper on insta.
Her arrangements are so strong and so powerful! Flowers don’t always have to be pretty.
Food is life and my favourite food people at the moment are Organic Ash and The Next Meal. They are just always doing something different and interesting AND they share things that I actually want to make!
I follow so many galleries and artists on Instagram – it’s so great because living in Hawkes Bay you can easily feel a little out of touch from the art world, that’s something I miss the most about Auckland. It’s not quite the same as seeing in person but it’s better than nothing!
Michael Lett is always a good time! One of my favourite NZ artists; Gavin Hurley has the best gram! Also loving Kirstin Carlin’s paintings at the moment. I could just keep going…..
Sometimes the radio is my best friend and is constantly on in my house. I actually find it really inspiring and motivating! I always check in every week with Kim Hill, Arts On Sunday and Music 101 – the best of Radio NZ!
We have ONE weekend to spend in Hawkes Bay.
Where and what would be on your hitlist?!
Wow where to begin!
Ok – Saturday we would go to the crazy markets on the Napier waterfront. I like this market because it’s a little bit of second hand, bit of tacky crafty stuff, food and veg. There are always interesting people there andit’s a little different from the classic Farmers Market in Hawkes Bay.
Then we would have to go to Hapi for food, can’t put in words how good the food makes you feel!
Would have to go for a walk up through the Redwoods to Te Mata peak, the BEST way to see Hawkes Bay.
Possibly dinner at Bistronomy, very special food!
Maybe a bit of shopping in Hastings. The Little Red Book Shop is a real gem, and then La Petite chocolate shop is amazing, they make everything there – it’s so beautiful!
The Hastings City Gallery is really great, always something really good on. We would also stop in at Parlour Projects across the road!
We’d end the weekend with fish and chips on Ocean Beach.
That was basically a food tour of HB!
What I learnt from Billie Culy:
Romance, beauty and nostalgia live in the smallest of details.
Take the time to recognise the little things that you attach memories, people and happiness to.