Passion in Colour: Monika Welch
Kerikeri artist Monika Welch has a million things on the go. A self-confessed “dynamo” and prolific painter, her artworks hang from every wall of her home, and her ideas are packed into a row of journals she is constantly filling. She is a woman on a mission to develop all those ideas into her mixed media art, to pass on knowledge and inspiration, and to help others overcome hurdles and stumbling blocks in their lives.
Monika is a colourful character; painter, art teacher, waka AMA competitor and founder of FINKK (Families in Need of Kindness Kerikeri), a social enterprise which helps struggling families formed six years ago. She collects and distributes food, furniture and clothes for them, and networks with people to find jobs, resources and services they might need.
The self-taught artist is just as well known in the Far North for her compassion as she is for her quirky, contemporary paintings. She began painting about 20 years ago as a way to earn an additional income when her children were little. At the time, while living in Tauranga, she sold clothes she had sourced from garage sales, sang in cafes and bars and ran a lucrative birthday party business for kids. One month she created a couple of paintings as gifts for friends and received such good feedback she painted a series which sold instantly online. Within two years her Pacifika-themed works were being featured in various galleries around the Bay of Plenty.
Whatever money she made, she used to buy better paint brushes, canvases and art supplies to improve and upgrade the tools of her creative trade. “I knew I had to practice every day as I didn’t go to art school. I had to teach myself, blunder through and make lots of mistakes and happy accidents.” She says.
By 2005 Monika had become prolific and her work — mixed media, acrylic or oil on canvas — had evolved into her current style; the female figurative art that she knew was a niche market. “I call them whimsical and haunting.” She agrees, then adds “mysterious, figurative and a little zany. “I like to experiment and have the intensity of gaze,” she says. “Some are quite melancholy but they all have a story in their face. It’s like they’re caught unawares.” In 2005, Monika and her family moved to Kerikeri and she branded her business into the form of a gallery. This also marked the time when she began holding art classes for women, teenagers and children.
“My main focus is to introduce creativity through play and explore ideas. It’s fun and it’s nostalgic” she explains. “It’s amazing that I’m able to have a career teaching people what I learned and loved as a child. If people are ever chatting about a career change, I always ask them ‘what did you like doing when you were a kid?”
Obsessed with colour, nature, the sea and lakes, Monika’s works have featured in an abundance of art exhibitions and galleries around New Zealand. She is a regular exhibitor in the annual Koast event (the Kerikeri open art studios trail) which sees dozens of artists open their homes and studios to the public each Labour Weekend.
Monika has scores of ideas constantly swirling around in her head. On her bookshelves sit a handful of journals which she uses to record quotes, sketches and snippets of conversations. “I read a lot and listen to people,” she explains. “People tell me all sorts of things; their yearnings, desires, their grief. Or I overhear something and that triggers ideas. You become very aware as an artist, you become very observant. When I go away in my campervan for a few days and I’m alone I can work out how to make these ideas come to life.
Over the years Monika has become interested in upcycling and recycling discarded items. She finds interesting pieces from nature while out walking or paddling on the waka. “I’m always looking on the ground because that’s where I find treasure. I find rusty things and abandoned things, I look at what’s old and abandoned and think how I can make it new and whole again.
She relates her latest passion to her work helping others through FINKK. You see, she has long been mixing up her palette of paint with her social conscience. When Monika hears of a family in need she reaches out to the community using social media to seek donations of clothing, food, a job or a place for them to stay. This led her to create a Facebook page for The House of FINKK, where members offer their services and excess items to others for free. Such as linen, household goods, cooking classes and kids’ bikes.
She encourages and inspires people to get off the couch, to get active and start making the most out of their lives. It’s a philosophy she learned from her parents who often helped people get on their feet. “That’s what we need to consider, part of our community are the people that feel abandoned or who are not making the best life choices.” She says “They feel isolated in their poverty. We need to bring them back, to love them again and bring them back into the community.
Monika’s next project is aimed at bringing the community together through a fashion show, aimed at raising funds for Hospice Mid-Northland in July this year. She is currently collaborating with the charity to plan the event which will focus on recycled and upcycled clothing. There will be themes, a cat-walk and perhaps a red carpet, and participants can model then sell their clothing with proceeds from ticket sales going to the charity. Monika also plans to kick start another round of art classes, taking her talents to hens’ nights and group meetings.
What drives this art connoisseur? This kind-hearted, colourful creative? “I can’t keep still for long,” she admits. “I’m always doing something. I’m a person who will help or give advice to anyone if asked for. I like talking to people and giving them ideas. I’m a problem solver. “My only problem is that I won’t have enough time in my life to get it all done.”