Artist takes inspiration from career in fashion

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By Mick Jensen

Full time Wakanui artist Rhonye McIlroy enjoyed a career in the fashion industry before making her mark in the art world.

It was while browsing through a costume book one day that she took inspiration from a photo and decided to give painting a go.

Since 2004 the artistic journey has seen her tackle subjects as diverse as Roman and Greek structures, surrealism, erotica and the female form, and early New Zealand history.

In 2016 she received the Premier Award at the annual exhibition run by Ashburton Society of Arts for her impressive work ‘Discovery, Capt J Cook, Poverty Bay, New Zealand, 8 October 1769’.

Rhonye said she had always loved art and crafts as a child.

After school she had trained as a clothing machinist, before being whisked off overseas by a boyfriend in 1987.

She had lived in Scotland and London for a number of years and travelled widely around Europe.

While overseas she had gained diplomas in fashion design and merchandising and worked for two renowned English fashion designers.

In 1997 she established her own clothing label and in the same year was a finalist in the New Zealand Smokefree Fashion awards.

“Some of my trips around Europe, particularly to a place like Rome, really caught my creative imagination and influenced my early art works.

“From my days in the fashion industry and creating drawings and dressing mannequins, I always loved the female form and I have celebrated it in a number of my other works.”

More recent works had focused on influences from New Zealand history from the 1700s and 1800s.

“I like to paint things for myself and not necessarily to sell,” said Rhonye.

An exception had been a recent portrait of All Blacks great Michael Jones, which would be auctioned at a Mid Canterbury Rugby fundraising evening on June 28, where Jones was a special guest and he would also sign the work.

Rhonye McIlroy paints primarily with acrylic on board, creating a series of finely detailed figurative layered works.

She usually manages to get in full days in her home art studio, before her children come home from school. Unusually, she likes to listen to true crime podcasts while painting.

An exhibition of Rhonye McIlroy’s early works are currently on display and for sale at Ashburton’s Grace Gallery (next door to Smiths City).

The exhibition was showcased at an open evening on Tuesday night and runs until the end of July. The gallery is open from Wednesday to Saturday between 10am and 2pm.

Photo: Rhonye McIlroy with her work ‘Venus and the Apple’, which is part of the Grace Gallery exhibition.