People and Places

Still-life artist Phoebe Gander finds magic in familiar items

Phoebe Gander has loved painting for as long as she can remember.

On canvas Phoebe Gander crafts celebratory, joyous works of art that are full of juicy cherries and zesty cocktails. However, there was a time when she put down the brush altogether. “I never really thought that painting was something I could make a career out of, so sadly I stopped painting after having children to be a full-time mum,” she says. It wasn’t until her mental health began to suffer that she realised she needed to create art again. “Once I started, I didn’t stop, and I soon realised that art was more than a hobby – it was an essential part of who I was, and I wanted to make a living from it too,” says Phoebe.

Now the UK-born artist is back in her studio and doing what she does best. Moving from Devon and its long British winters to the sunny coast of Wainui was a no-brainer for Phoebe and her husband, who made the leap back in 2005. “We knew it was a place that we wanted to bring up a family,” she says. The pair now have three beautiful children together, and Phoebe spends her days by the sea, capturing the fleeting light.

Fruit features in many of Phoebe’s paintings, such as in Maybe It’s the Time of Year with cherries that transport you to a hot summer’s day.

Your work is intoxicatingly summery and packed with delicious fruits and drinks. What is it about these subjects that compels you?

I’m pretty much obsessed with colour and light, and these subject matters really lend themselves to that. I absolutely love shadows and seeing how light refracts through glass, and how it interacts with ordinary objects. The main themes behind my work are nostalgia and the beauty of ordinary, simple moments that are often overlooked.

How long does a painting take to do?

It really depends on the size and subject matter. A small still life, say 20cm x 20cm can take 6-10 hours but larger pieces can take weeks or even months depending on the level of detail. Of course, it’s not just the hours spent on the actual artwork, it’s the many hours of practising and experience that have gone before each painting. Each one is part of a lifetime of work.

Phoebe loves to capture the “beauty of ordinary, simple moments that are often overlooked”.

What drew you to the still life genre?

It’s the way a still life can capture something extraordinary in objects that seem so ordinary. We all rush through life, but with my art I strive to convey a sense of magic in familiarity. I want to invite the viewer to take a closer look at seemingly insignificant moments and appreciate the beauty of the mundane. Each piece is a reminder to slow down and enjoy these moments in their own lives. It means that now I look at life through a different lens. I’m much more mindful, and constantly looking for beauty in places that it isn’t expected.

You’re an advocate for fostering a supportive and sustainable environment for artists. What are some things you wish the public would know when it comes to supporting artists?

Being an artist means relying on a very unstable income stream, and especially right now it can be very stressful. Many artists are working several other jobs just to help them get by. I hear a lot of artists saying they feel like giving up this year. It is important to support artists, so even if you just buy a print or share them on social media you will be helping – you never know who might see that and where it might lead. I don’t think people realise the hidden work and costs that go into creating art. Good quality paint and canvas is expensive, as is framing and brushes. There are so many costs that artists outlay before they’ve even painted a single mark. And the time spent on each piece is hard to gauge when you see a 30-second reel on Instagram. I suppose to just be aware that if you think the price of an artwork is high, you need to break that down to the cost of materials, time spent and commission taken by the gallery. I doubt that the artist is even meeting the minimum wage.

What do you like to listen to when you paint?

I mainly listen to podcasts, I love comedy podcasts, art ones and science ones too. Sometimes I’ll put on music such as Ben Howard, Joni Mitchell, or Oasis (I often use song lyrics to inspire my painting titles), or instrumental music like Ludovico Einaudi if I’m feeling overwhelmed.

Phoebe holds up her print entitled That Time of Day, which is a limited edition number sold through her website.

Who are some artists that inspire you and your work?

I’ve always loved Edward Hopper for his sense of nostalgia and the way he paints light, and David Hockney for his use of colour.

What’s the favourite piece you’ve painted?

Oh gosh, that’s hard, it’s a bit like picking a favourite child. I really loved painting That Time of Day, which is a G&T with sliced lemons, but Until the Morning Light is probably my current favourite. It’s a painting of two pears next to a retro glass mug and I really love the composition and colours.

You run the podcast Fail Like an Artist, can you tell us about that?

Yes, I co-host with another artist, Julie Battisti, who lives in Dunedin. We discuss all the ways that artists can feel like they are failing. There’s no manual on how to be an artist, so it is basically our way of helping other artists feel less alone. Failure is such a normal part of life and it’s an essential part of being an artist. Hopefully, normalising it will give more people the courage to create and sell their art without fearing failure. We’ve just reached 100,000 downloads and have only been going since January, so we must be doing something right.

You originally studied textile design; do you think that influences the way you paint?

I think the way I paint in layers is still a throwback to my fabric screen-printing days, plus the use of flat colour and bold shapes.

Do you have any exciting things in the works?

I’m working on self-paced, mini-online courses at the moment to complement my online colour mixing course. This way people can learn some of my techniques from the comfort of their own home. I also have new work and prints available at Greenhouse Interiors.

How can people view and support your wonderful work?

My work is at Greenhouse Interiors, Flagstaff, and Gallery De Novo.

Text Caroline Moratti  Photography Brennan Thomas


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