As memories distort into stories, time becomes less linear and everything overlaps – Claire Delaney
“My past is my story,” says Claire Delaney, (formerly Hey, née Wilson). “It has shaped who I am now and makes sense of past choices, but I’m closer today to the little girl that I used to be in the garden making up stories under the apple tree.”
At 1am on 21 October 1969 Claire Delaney became the last baby born in Northampton Maternity hospital. That year man took his first step on the moon, hippies blissed-out at Woodstock, and the first Concorde test flight was conducted in France. All the stuff of stories, and made somehow concrete in the diminutive, high energy, mixed-media storyteller Delaney has become.
The recent success of her book, Little Wing is a dream come true. Teaming up with Willy Coenradi, a collector and restorer of antique printing presses, Delaney decided to produce the book as a family heirloom. The cloth-bound hard-backed 38 page book was produced using only traditional printing and binding methods. Winning the Gold medal for the Pride in Print 2016 National Letterpress Process, Little Wing also won the Gold medal in the Specialty Products category.
A fairy tale illustrated with magically convoluted line drawings for children of all ages, Little Wing is about following dreams. A stuck wing means flying is impossible unless it can be unstuck.
Stuck wings are something Delaney understands well. Almost a cuckoo in the nest between parents who were neither artistic, nor arty, they nevertheless instilled in her a sense of occasion. Marvellous hosts, they held myriad parties and made a feast of every celebration.
“Dad was a director at Hawkins Shoes which manufactured climbing and riding boots,” said Delaney. ”I vividly remember the day we delivered Princess Anne’s riding boots to Buckingham Palace stables. With guards in attendance we were invited to sit magnificently in the gold coach. We continued on to Madame Tussauds to deliver boots for Sir Edmund Hilary. The behind-the-scenes working of the creations blew me away. Drawers full of eyes. Shelves lined with heads; people being dipped in wax.
“Mum told me and my sister on the train to London that day, ‘Freeze this moment. Notice everything around you and never forget it. Walk slowly, look where you normally don’t. See the cracks in the pavement, the windows above the shops, the clouds making faces’.
“The tutors at art school later taught precisely the same thing. Mum and Dad relived every experience, adding impossible embellishments as they recounted them. They read to me, made stories up, bought books and let me read for days on end. In a garden of make-believe full of memories, it was truly a magic childhood.”
“Dreams are the opposite of memories. Dreaming holds images until they become real.”
Already excelling in art by 16, Delaney attended a two year Arts Foundation Diploma course at Nene College, Northampton, in her native UK. Studies included life drawing, photography, jewellery, sculpture, printing, textiles and other disciplines.
”We were only allowed to draw with a pencil tied to the end of a stick for the first two weeks,” she says. “Breaking our egos, freeing us up, and challenging all our school ideas became de rigueur. The tutors were all working artists and designers, and passionate teachers. They opened me up to the possibility of living as a full-time artist.”
Delaney’s enchanted childhood had abruptly ended at ten when her father suddenly died. Under these tutors she learned to employ her grief to make art and has been a proponent of art-as-therapy ever since.
Offered a work placement at the Tate Liverpool, she was exposed to top artists delivering workshops and holiday programmes for children. The experience formed the bedrock for the tutoring work she does today.
After graduating with a BA, (Hons) in fine arts-based Textiles and Fashion from St John Moore’s University, Liverpool in 1992, she travelled, collecting textiles and ‘the stories woven within them’.
Back in the UK, she qualified as a youth worker in 1993, and set up Time for Art, an arts-based business successfully selling her own works and teaching in the community.
Her arrival in New Zealand in 1997 with two young children and a husband signalled an adventurous new start.
“Juggling family life became a focus for my art,” she said. “Children ground me. They’ve taught me to be braver, wiser, funnier, and kinder. They were forever coming into the studio, wanting to see what I was making. That was encouraging in itself, but in stimulating them to be creative in turn, I’ve had to walk the talk. It’s Important that I role model as a follower of dreams for my girls, and for those I teach.”
Delaney’s daughters, Ruby (21), Izzy (19) and Aiko (16), continue to provide focus, and, invaluable excruciatingly honest critique. “Aiko is an amazing singer-songwriter and encourages my writing hugely.”
As a full-time artist and arts tutor, currently also at Corban Estate Art Centre, Delaney’s greatest reward comes from seeing students embrace their creativity and grow in confidence. An enthusiastic teacher, her primary goal is to enable the creative process.
“There are no shortcuts. We all have to face the critique monster. We all have to find achievement in our art that is meaningful to us, and we all need to wrestle with the demon who asks us if our work is also meaningful to others. Only we can answer these questions. Only we can unstick the wing that keeps us from flying. Self-belief and discipline are key to creative adventures seeing the light of day.”
Calling herself a dream catcher, Delaney comes across as genuine, authentic. A truth-teller, she confesses to telling stories and making marks because it’s fun.
“I love my work. It’s messy. It’s frustrating. It constantly asks, What if? Playcentre claims children learn best through play. Actually I learn best through play. My work is play. Does that undervalue it? Maybe, or maybe it allows a freedom we all secretly long for.”
She is frank about living as a full-time artist. “I trust that if I turn up, work hard at my art and my teaching, that I will be paid and can continue my work. I just want to do my work. Neil Gaiman said in his speech, ‘Make good art’ https://www.uarts.edu/neil-gaiman-keynote-address-2012 . If I’d done work I was proud of but for which I wasn’t paid, at least I’d have the work.”
From personal experience she knows the vulnerability and exposure art can cause. Her students range from children through to adults in their 70s, and she encourages them to experience fully the process of being present and communicating it through their work by setting her own example. “It is the job of an artist is to observe,” she says. “Not to conclude, but to question, raise awareness, stop and look a little closer.”
“Students really enjoy getting tuition in the studio of a practicing artist. At university I always preferred the tutors who worked part-time and had their own practice over the full-time lecturers. They were good role models for learning to paint by painting, rather than talking about it.”
Recent themes in Delaney’s own work have been based around her most important task of motherhood and include; coming-of-age rites of passage, growing up, and self-belief. Perennial themes include memories, stories, fairy tales, nature, old buildings, pushing boundaries, the circus of life, and hopes and dreams.
A combination of words, pictures and mixed-media paintings Delaney’s works are whimsical, observational, playful, poetic, funny and loose. Utilising texture, pattern, and an abundance of colour, her years as a textile specialist have resulted in a capacity to adroitly break many of the rules. Crisp perfection and straight lines are void in most of her work, while layers hiding observations beg for second and third looks. A visual certainty often isn’t certain, and fun, light pieces are frequently shot through with deeper meaning.
Despite having lived 20 years in her adopted country her work also has a loyal following in the UK. Works are held in many private collections around the world, and the Bankfield Museum Halifax holds a large embroidered commission. Exhibiting regularly in the past, sometimes in more than ten group shows a year in galleries and museums throughout England, these years, Delaney limits exhibitions of her signed works to one solo a year.
“The longer I am in New Zealand,” she says, “the more I appreciate the generous art community. I constantly meet like-minded artists who share their passion about creating, who are eager to learn, to collaborate, and to encourage. I may make my art alone but I feel supported by the people around me, never more so than while Little Wing was coming into being, or when I put exhibitions on.”
Claire Delaney offers on-going self-directed adult and children’s art courses at Time for Art, her studio at Riverhead, Auckland. She also tutors workshops in Mixed Media, Printing, Beginner’s Painting, Doll-making, Conscious Colour, and Flourishing (Life course). Students can expect an inspirational creative experience designed to remind them to tune into their creative side.
Source: Theresa Sjoquist interview with Claire Delaney – October 2016
Copyright Theresa Sjoquist – November 2016