An escapee from Christchurch’s red zone, artist Jacqueline Spencer-Macleod found a new creative sanctuary in the north.
You live and work on Auckland’s North Shore. What drew you there?
My husband Grant and I fled to Auckland from Christchurch in 2012, knowing only one person here. Our former red-zoned home was too broken to fix and we needed a change. We immediately fell in love with the North Shore lifestyle – friends who visited commented that it was like being on holiday on a Pacific Island, with its golden sand beaches and balmy gulf water.
Tell us about your work and what inspires you.
I am a portrait artist, and I seek to challenge the historically romantic narrative of portrait painting in New Zealand, in particular portraits of New Zealand women. I want to represent the strength and empowerment, drive and determination of Kiwi women. Previously, I’ve worked in engineering as an electrical draughtsperson and I’ve been a secondary school art teacher.
What do you like about having your studio at home?
Its handy location. It’s close to everything, from Takapuna Beach, where I walk the dog every day, to the city, where I often have to go to pick up art supplies. It’s also handy for curators to visit me.
What attracted you to your house?
The first home we bought on the North Shore was in Murray’s Bay – a 1990s build high above the sea – but it was too small for us, so we started looking for a new house. In 2013 we were in Takapuna, casting around for our next business project, when we spotted this house. We loved the European-style home and the cool glass carport. We introduced ourselves to the owner, Don Melville, who turned out to be an antiques dealer whose shop was in one of two adjacent commercial buildings. Don wasn’t keen on selling, but a year later he and his wife changed their minds and we managed to win the house at auction, along with the commercial buildings.
What was it like when you bought it?
The 160sqm home was built in the early 2000s and modelled on contemporary European design, specifically from the south of France and Italy which just happen to be two of our favourite places. A glass and wood carport connects the residence with the commercial buildings, while the windows are reminiscent of Mediterranean houses, designed to keep out the heat, with the wooden louvre shutters of France.
What changes have you made?
The house was in good shape, though the shops were another story! We repainted the home’s exterior in a traditional Mediterranean salmon pink, which contrasts nicely with the silvery grey we used on the shops. Internally, we opted for whitewashed walls to provide an ideal backdrop for our many artworks, which include many of my own works but also pieces from artist friends that I’ve collected over the years.
What was the biggest challenge?
The shops were built in 1924 and required a lot of work to bring them up to earthquake building code standards, while retaining their street appeal. The main change was dividing the large shop, which used to be a dairy and butcher, into two retail outlets. That involved gutting it and replacing the electrical and plumbing systems, installing fire systems, toilets and new doors, relining the walls and installing a marine-grade roof with ceiling insulation. The three retail outlets are now occupied by a café, an eco packaging business and an electrical shop.
What’s your interiors style?
Pretty eclectic. In terms of art, I skew towards the contemporary, whereas our furniture tends towards the antique. Grant grew up with antiques and he loves older pieces of furniture with history, so our homes have always been filled with a mix of modern and antique. We always joke that I bring Grant into the future and he takes me back to the past.
What did you do in the garden?
The garden had been landscaped in a traditional English/French style, with a good layout and plantings, but it was badly overgrown. So it was a matter of drastically cutting everything back and generally reducing the height and bulk of plants to fit the space. We also replaced the small courtyard lawn with seashells to create a nautical feel, as we’re so close to the sea.
How did you design your studio?
I set up my studio with a painting wall and bespoke easel made from solid oak and metal, which is large enough to hold a number of heavy canvases at once.
What inspired your latest exhibition?
It’s a series of self-portraits I started in lockdown. I called them “reflections on when the world stopped and had to listen”. These quick studies took place over the course of a week and each image was painted in five to 15 minutes. They were then wiped away with a cloth and I worked on the surface again, as some of the line forms and structures of the previous portrait remained.
Where does your future lie?
Although we love Auckland and our neighbours in Takapuna have made us feel very welcome, we are Cantabrians at heart. At some point we may move back there.