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In the Bag: Ruby Wilkinson

Words by Yu Mei

Ruby Wilkinson with the Georgie Bag in Tangerine and Milly Bag in Black

Ruby Wilkinson seeks out the sun — whether that’s waking up with the day’s first rays in her curtainless bedroom, or exploring the orb’s warm tones in her first solo exhibition, Sun room. “I have realised that my studio doesn’t let in much sunlight — this giving an explanation as to why I can’t stop painting in yellow,” she said of the show when it debuted. “I am simply trying to paint the sun.”

We were first introduced to the Wellington based artist, who won the 2021 New Zealand Paint and Printmaking Award for her work Flower for the Sun, by Jhana Millers ( of Jhana Millers Gallery, who hosted Ruby’s debut exhibition, and — fortunately for us — is located only a couple of floors below the Yu Mei studio ).

At Yu Mei, we constantly draw inspiration from the subtle hues of our natural environment, so Ruby’s work immediately struck a chord with us. When it came to our Spring Summer 22 collection, we knew a collaboration with Ruby would be a glove-fit. We’ll be exhibiting three custom bags that Ruby has created for us, showcasing her paintings at our Yu Mei Lounges, and offering special holiday gift wrap featuring Ruby’s work. Pop into the Lounges over summer to see Ruby’s work in person, and discover more about the artist below.

Career

I like to sleep with no curtains — my room faces the Wellington South Coast, and I love waking with the sun and watching the ocean from my bed. Most mornings I get a coffee from Queen Sally’s Diamond Deli in Lyall Bay, where my partner works as a barista. I then aim to get to the studio in the morning, as it’s when I work the best.

I usually start my studio sessions off by listening to mixes on NTS radio. NTS is an awesome music streaming service which values algorithms made by people, not computers, and is a great way to discover new music.

In the studio I will either be stretching canvases, or preparing them for painting with ground mediums. My painting sessions are often quite short and sporadic, and I spend a lot of my time mixing colours and revisiting memories. I also do a lot of reading and creative writing there. On the days I’m not painting, I work up at Art Works Framers in Karori, ( 1 ) as a picture framer. I like to see framing as a device used to protect the things we love. I love my job.

Some people view painting as a dated medium, but I think there is so much more to be said, and that excites me. I believe painting has the ability to offer a pause for viewers in the fast-paced world of today. It’s such a contrast to the digital world we are surrounded by. For me, painting has always felt like a necessity — it has been my way of documenting the world around me, and it’s taught me so many things about the world and myself. I guess, ultimately, I am always trying to achieve honesty through my work.

There are all these misconceptions of going to art school, like people telling you that you won’t be able to get a job with a Fine Arts degree. But I think art school can be so useful. I studied at Massey University, and that definitely helped me in shaping the way I view the world around me, and how I navigate life. It also helped me really question why I wanted to be a painter, and helped me set the foundations to become a practising artist. If I didn’t go to art school, however, I imagine I might’ve studied architecture. I have always felt moved by buildings, and am interested in atmospheric theory.

I think the idea of being a painter can be quite daunting. But for anyone wanting to do it, if you really feel a connection to the art form, then just keep persistent and keep challenging yourself. And have conversations with creatives around you — it’s amazing how much you can learn from your friends.

Design

I like to wear clothes that make me feel good, and I think as a woman this can vary drastically from day to day. My style has always been influenced by wāhine who I look up to, mainly friends and family. I try to buy my clothes second hand, or through ethical makers. ( 2 ) Currently I can’t stop wearing olive green, off-white and marigold colours.

I am infatuated with New Zealand painter Star Gossage at the moment. Star has this ability to convey so much emotion through her paintings, which is super inspiring to me. My partner Christian Dimick is also a practising artist ( /painter ), and I am inspired by him daily. Some books that have recently influenced me are Bluets by Maggie Nelson, Sea and Fog by Etel Adnan and Curatorial Feelings by Eloise Sweetman.

Life

I enjoy waking up with the sun, and take my mornings quite slow to really prepare for the day. Ideally I would like to jump in the ocean to cleanse before the day ahead, but I can’t say I do this every day. In my spare time, I really enjoy knitting. Knitting almost feels like a form of meditation to me — I love the sensory aspect of it, and working with my hands. I also love cooking, and being able to bring people together over food.

I find it hard to separate ‘life’ and ‘work’, because for me, painting is always going to be heavily involved in both. I am inspired by the world around me — the land, the people and my memories. Often when I am painting, I am also recollecting the sensations and experiences I have with these elements.

Utility

I think I am a mix of organised and unorganised. I generally keep a tidy, clutter-free room, but then my bag ( a large woven basket ) is a complete mess. It contains two pairs of sunglasses, measuring tapes, moisturiser, reading glasses, my kindle, my diary, three different kinds of D rings, Sonaflam, pistachios, a sudoku book, all my cards loose everywhere and lip balm. The essentials I can’t go anywhere without are my notebooks, Sennheiser headphones and Weleda Skin Food.

Recommendations

A band I’d really recommend is Recitals — they just released their debut album, Orbit 1. Some artists I am in love with right now are Travis Macdonald, Teuane Tibbo, Lottie Consalvo, Milli Jannides, Ammon Ngakuru and Ming Ranginui. I’m also constantly inspired by writers — some favourites are Etel Adnan, Maggie Nelson, Ocean Vuong, Dominic Hoey, Rochelle Feinstein, Sarah Ahmed, Olivia Laing and Jan Verwoert. Films that I’ve watched and loved recently are C’mon C’mon directed by Mike Mills, and A Sun directed by Chung Mong-hong. Both are so beautiful. I’m also watching a lot of Werner Herzog documentaries at the moment — some of my favourites are Encounters at the End of the World, The White Diamond, and Cave of Forgotten Dreams. But I think my top recommendation is to swim in the ocean as often as you can.

There is no problem that can't be solved by a good swim in the sea. ( 3 )

Ruby Wilkinson is represented by Jhana Millers Gallery. If you'd like to purchase any of Ruby's artwork please contact jhana@jhanamillers.com

[1] Art Works Framers are a favourite of Sarah Wickens.

[2] Yu Mei believes in the power of knowing the provenance of your purchases.

[3] As a cancerian, this is also a tightly held belief of Jessie's, and Sinead Boucher, makes it a priority to 'wallow in the sea every day'.

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