Sunday, 28 February 2021


Hidden trash inspired Debbie Lim’s unique Art Escape creation

Applying eight months ago to participate in the upcoming Mercury Bay Art Escape kicked of an exciting and challenging journey for Whitianga’s Debbie Lim.

The mum of two and commercial photographer saw the opportunity to rekindle the creative side of her trade and at the same time revive her love of painting. “I’m sure it’s the same for lots of people. You get busy with work, family, just life in general,” she says. “You don’t have the luxury of time to commit to your art. But I realised how much I missed it, so I decided to apply for the Art Escape to give myself a focus and a reason to get back into it. Now I’m just really excited to have people come along and to talk about what I have been doing.”

The term “blank canvass” is pretty literal in terms of the Art Escape debutante’s starting point. “I didn’t have a single piece or even a proper space,” she laughs. With the help of husband Hamish, the couple’s former garage at 6 Mermaid Place is now a purpose-built studio, crisp white walls perfectly showcasing the collection of work Debbie has been slowly pulling together over the past few months. Featuring a mix of both photographs and paintings, the display speaks to all sides of her personality, bold graphic prints giving way to more organic pieces that Debbie says connect more to her spiritual side. “With those I just paint what I feel at the time, I couldn’t necessarily explain what they are or where they come from,” she says.

However, taking centre stage during the Open Studio weekends on 6 and 7, and 13 and 14 March will be something uniquely different, a statement piece inspired by Debbie’s passion for the environment. “Over the last three years I have been training in the art of Reiki energy healing,” she says. “Part of this work is about personal responsibility and respect for nature. As someone that goes to the beach every day, I decided to put my Reiki into practice by picking up any rubbish that I found. I did not think I would find much. At first glance our beach looks pristine. But if you slow right down and focus really hard, you will start to notice small parts that do not belong.

“Within a couple of weeks, I had amassed an enormous collection. My very first session along just one short stretch of beach yielded multiple tangles of fishing line, dental floss, large strips of fabric, bullet casings, a toothbrush, a plastic handle, multiple small pieces of hard plastic, aluminium can bottoms, a dummy, plastic ribbon, broken glass, velcro, sponge, rope and a cable tie. This was all found at the wharf end of Buffalo Beach alone. I was a bit shocked and very quickly thought about making some art out of it to raise awareness among locals and visitors.”

Over the course of three months, Debbie gathered washed and separated a huge collection of rubbish from local beaches. “Having thought about how it cloaked the beach, the idea started to form and a trip to the Christchurch museum solidified the idea to build a korowai which could represent the impact that we are having on the ocean - cloaking it with rubbish,” she says. “I bunched up many of the food wrappings and cut up plastic bags to act as feathers around the shoulders. As an additional comment on where the rubbish should be going, I lined the hessian with blue council rubbish bags. To represent Tangaroa, god of the sea, I have papered the body with photographs that I had taken while out on the boat, dolphins, fish, all from our local sea.”

Accompanying her korowai, Debbie also created a series of images she calls “Wallpaper” as they feature a repeating pattern. “The concept here is that, at first glance it may look pretty but on closer inspection you realise that interspersed with great regularity amongst the nature is rubbish,” she says. “This work conveys the process of finding the rubbish. You have to really slow down, look closely and poke around.”

Still deciding on a final name for her environmental project, Debbie hopes it can be a useful opportunity for learning, beyond just the Art Escape audience. “It would be nice to be able to have some of the kids from the school come and maybe use it to start a discussion for more wider education about our local environment,” she says.

For now, Debbie is encouraging as many locals as possible to get out and about to visit the Open Studios. “That’s what I did last year and, aside from seeing some amazing artwork, it’s a great excuse to get out and explore our own backyard,” she says.

Pictured: Artist and photographer, Debbie Lim, is putting the finishing touches to her korowai, which will be a central piece in her studio display for the upcoming Mercury Bay Art Escape Open Studios.


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