During our time in Raglan, New Zealand, we randomly bumped into Denise. Born in Germany, she came to New Zealand in 2009 because she always felt the urge to live somewhere else and to go on an adventure. Eventually she ended up in Raglan and after drawing on a table for Raglan Roast, people soon gave her all kinds of things to draw on (vans, cars, guitars, shoes). She always felt more like a designer, not like an artist, but when she desperately needed some money, a friend suggested to go busking. So she spread out her canvas and put her beanie out to ask for money. Today she runs an own art space in the middle of Raglan, combining her studio and a small shop. Her lease runs out in April 2017 – and she might start traveling for a longer time. So we cannot promise that you will bump into her in Raglan, but maybe somewhere else in the world?
Wonder what wonderful Raglan is like? Make sure to visit this small (surfer’s) paradise on New Zealand’s North Island.
What comes to your mind when you think of “home”?
I felt temporarily home in Raglan, it was the closest I felt home in a geographical way so far. Otherwise I feel home when I draw my own world or sometimes friends can give me that feeling of home. But I’m not expecting it to be a physical place in the world anymore. Maybe it has to do with my family being from Czech Republic, I was born in Germany. But maybe it has other reasons. I like the saying, home is where your heart is. This would be definitely my art.
What do you associate with "traveling"
I go to places to experience the culture and the people there. I wanna know how they live, how they think, I wanna laugh with them and I love connecting with people through my art. I usually just start in a country without a plan, I go again with the flow, I show my art and see what happens. I don’t mind to get stuck at one place when it feels right. I have made friends in a village called Cherating on my very first trip to Malaysia 2012. I have been back now maybe 6 times, I can’t remember. I haven’t seen much of the country but I have been multiply times to weddings in Malaysia, I know how to crush coconut powder now and my cooking is strongly influenced by my friend, Ani who is an amazing chef and spoils me with her cooking every time I’m there. It is not always easy on your mind to see all the colours of one place. It is easier to just pass through and stay in your happy holiday bubble, I sometimes wish I could to, but I’m so curious about all these different lives people live, I love when you dig deeper, I like the change of a place when you do know even it’s sometimes difficult or it hurts.
Which place or destination blows your mind?
There are so many places of course, beautiful places landscape wise. And for sure Raglan and New Zealand does otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed 8 years. But also dense cities and one was Seoul in South Korea. Before I came to Seoul I always believed the reason why people in the city are not as friendly to each other is because of the high population. But in Seoul most life seems to happen in the streets, because of high population spaces are small and expensive. Everybody got along fine. I also made friends with a few Korean Women. I was also fascinated by the aesthetic of fashion, art or just underground signs… the new ones. But I wasn’t long enough there to see the true colours. But it did blow my mind and change my artwork a lot. But so did India and Indonesia but that is a little while longer ago.
Is there anyone you met who deeply impressed you?
There are many. My brother of course and 2 guys running a pretty cool agency. I was there for a 3 month internship and it was the ‘wrong’ one, I was supposed to do one in Industrial Design to pass the paper. This one was Graphic Design. But all options looked very uninspiring and I was drifting away from ID at the time. I discovered their (back then) 2-men-agency at one of their talks they gave about design. They looked like fun. And they were! We became friends and one of them said one day, seeing me struggling, I remember: “I think you are a great talented Industrial Designer but I think you would have a better impact in the world if you work as an illustrator.“ They believed in me before I did and they let me share their office with them for the next 3 years until I left for New Zealand. I learned everything about freelancing there. It was so good, there was a time, I would be there 7 days a week. And I did get my paper anyway. There would be nothing of me what and how I am today without encountering these two dudes and a few more in the surrounding offices.
What does food mean to you?
Traveling, connecting with people, sharing the moment together, giving, loving, learning… When I came to New Zealand I was lucky to have met someone who is a very good chef. His passion is food. He showed me how to get food from nature. I never felt this kind of security and freedom before with this new knowledge. It doesn’t work in all countries anymore sadly. He showed me the basics, the logic of cooking. I knew nothing about cooking before I met him and I was very shy cooking for others. Now it’s different, with that logic, I invent my own dishes and being spoilt by Ani in Malaysia, I blow my friends mind sometimes. And then I love saying what Ani always says when I can’t believe the explosion of flavours in my mouth, asking what did you do? She would say: “Oh Denise just simple, just simple garlic, ginger, chilli, …. , simple. Tonight we eat simple.”
What is special about your art?
My artwork for itself has its own world. The main characters are helicopter-robots and many different species of it exist like the helicopter-butterfly or most recently discovered: the helicopter-jellyfish-butterfly. Last year the helicopter whale and a very special friend, a starfish, came into my world. These are just some of the inhabitants of my world, there are many more. I like to tell stories. My helicopter world tells mainly the story of colonisation. In my world there is no ‘nationalism’. The ones who arrive second recognise quite quickly that they have a lot of similarities, and at the same time they are seeing the differences as advantages and combing their best features of both worlds after a while. Both sides are very curious. I like using a very abstract way to question our society. My artwork looks very cute and innocent at first, sometimes only the title reveals the real meaning behind it. It’s always subtle, it’s never aggressive. My story doesn’t have an opinion, not one artwork standing alone anyway. All dwellers, robots or whales are gender free.
What do you use to create your art?
Technically my artwork is created out of black lines. I love drawing beautiful lines. I think this comes from my time as an industrial designer and graphic designer. Besides my drawings for itself, I’m applying my artwork on many different medias. Mainly on upcycled recycled stuff, like furniture, any wood, jewellery and I make my own handmade recycled paper. Any merchandise I create is fair trade and uses environmentally friendly materials like organic cotton. I use a New Zealand screen printer who works with chemical free colors. All my furniture in my gallery I made myself out of recycled materials. This year I finally got to the point were I could offer T-shirts designed by myself. I also received lots of help by local fashion designers. All shirts are made by Dominique Lecourtois, printed locally and made from 100 % organic cotton. We actually used left over fabric in her studio. On my trip to Nepal I finally found a company I can work with, as this company works towards creating fair trade jobs for women in Nepal. Their founder is an extremely passionate and busy woman who also works on educating the world and Nepalis about the situation of women in Nepal. My dream is to do a lot more in that direction and has been my main driver to persue my artwork as a business from … always.
Name two fun memories regarding your work as an artist!
1) I once went to speak in front of a school class, kids like to ask ‘What do you do if you make a mistake?’ and I like to answer ‘I don’t. I did practise a lot and I am quite confident with my lines but if I feel it goes a bit different I just make something else out of it. It’s my world, in my world there is no right or wrong.’ I wasn’t sure if their teacher would appreciate it, but she nodded her head, she loved it. I have to say I freestyle when I draw, I don’t sketch with a pencil first.
And 2) Sometimes people would comment, ‘Your world looks like underwater, but is it?’ Then I might say, ‘Maybe if you like, but since it is a very different world from what we know it could be anything, maybe there is no water as we know it, maybe they exist in a chocolate-like liquid with very little gravity and when you are hungry you just open your month and ‘lick’ the ‘air’ in and it tastes like chocolate!’ I have a lot of fun in my gallery.
What is your biggest challenge at the moment?
I think to filter through all upcoming opportunities. We are very spoilt in the first world with many opportunities. Sometimes it is hard to choose. Of course I’m grateful. Challenges are great. The immediate challenge will be to leave Raglan, but it’s ok, if it’s too painful, it might mean I have to come back. It’s great when we can figure things out by just trying but unfortunately that trick doesn’t work always.
Want to get to know more about artist Denise Fort? Go ahead and visit her website. She also has an online shop and worldwide shipping.