One week, two of New Zealand arts’ greats for Ficino School students

Claire Riley Visit Ficino SchoolFicino School students last week enjoyed time with two of New Zealand’s outstanding arts figures: sharing poetry with Cilla McQueen, New Zealand Poet Laureate for 2009-2011 and discussing artwork with prominent New Zealand artist Clare Reilly.

As both women normally reside in the South Island, the special visits were a great opportunity for the Mt Eden primary school students.

“One of Ficino School’s main aims is to enrich our students with the finest examples our culture can offer, so we are delighted they had the opportunity to meet and be inspired by creative New Zealanders who have achieved so highly in their respective fields,” said Peter Crompton, School Principal.

Students from all year groups met with Bluff-based poet Cilla McQueen on Wednesday to read poetry with her and ask her questions about her work. McQueen was the New Zealand Poet Laureate for 2009–2011. She has published 14 volumes of poetry, including a letterpress book and a CD collection, and has won the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry three times.

After recreating some of Christchurch artist’s Clare Reilly’s distinctive paintings during the term, Year 8 students on Thursday had the chance to have a Q&A session with her, asking questions that ranged from “where do you get your inspiration for art?” to “what advice would you give to someone who wanted to do art?”.

Cilla McQueen.jpgReilly’s works express an underlying connection with the natural environment, in particular an empathy with native birds combined with a celebration of the joyous aspects of life. Her work has recently been used on three book covers, and is featured on the covers of Craig Potton’s Contemporary Landscape In New Zealand Art calendar for 2012 and 2013 and in the 2014 and 2015 calendars as well.

When asked by one of the children about Reilly’s working environment she replied, “My studio is a room in my house that is calm and peaceful. It has cream walls and very good lighting and is uncluttered. I like to be able to hear the different birds calling in the garden as they come and go. My paintings have a poetic stillness or meditative calm in them, and where I work has to have that quality as well. Many people respond to that aspect in my paintings. I think it gives them a sense of peace and room to be reflective, something that becomes harder to find in our too busy world.”

Ficino School students have direct experience of the stillness Clare Reilly reminds us of through mindfulness practices which are at the heart of the school’s educational philosophy.