You are gluttonous when it comes to travel. And champagne. Tell me more.

My first time in Florence, I wanted to eat the local food, I wanted to drink the local wine, I wanted to climb the Duomo. I wanted to understand why the Italians drink wine with lunch. That flavour spectrum is about their identity, the local ingredients, the culture at play and the importance of the simple ritual of dining and drinking. Gluttony [as a word] is very judgmental when, in actual fact, you could say we are beholden as people to enjoy the day, to make the most of the bountiful riches we have. My ridiculous weakness is for the furious and beguiling pop of champagne - the tumultuous bead and the hint of absolution.

What are some cultures that you are hungry to experience?
I've just come back from six days in Sydney and it became very apparent to me just walking the streets - because I love to walk, to walk is to know something - that I did not see one Aboriginal face, I saw very few Islanders, no Māori, and I was gripped by this idea that Auckland is the epicentre of the Pacific. I know we have always given lip service to Auckland being the Polynesian capital of the world, but in Sydney last week I got this visceral sense that what is so special about Auckland is how thrillingly Pacific we are, and what a great thing it is. I would love to see more Pacific restaurants. I am greedy for more Aucklandness in the local experience.

Artist John Reynolds enjoys his sins. Photo / Supplied.
Artist John Reynolds enjoys his sins. Photo / Supplied.


Speaking of greed, you say you are greedy for aesthetic experience. What do you mean?

I think any visual artist tends to look at the world through visual material and to be less able to resist the beguilement of the world, to be overwhelmed almost. One of the ways this exhibits for me is that I tend to get very excitable in front of art works that I really love, and I want to talk to people, and when I just turn to strangers, as I am wont to do in a gallery, they don't always share my excitement or want to be involved in my pleasure, standing in front of a 400-year-old landscape or whatever I'm looking at. I am just helpless in front of work I love.

New Zealanders are less socially forward, and I am possibly typical of that, but I find the aesthetic experience draws me out of that. We should all live with art. We often frame it as a luxury but when you examine it, it is actually a deep necessity.

Is there anything that you greedily collect?
I have far too many books. When you walk into my studio there is a table, which is simply towers of books. I'm an artist who tends to build projects around a text, so I might read a book, I might read a chapter, I might find an author, and that leads on to a visual inquiry and while that inquiry might take me far from the text, at the same time the point of departure is invariably a book. I am helpless with books, as I am helpless with paintings.

Sloth is a positive for you because you believe that if you are idle, your mind has a chance to wander.
Sloth is such a great word. As an ex-Catholic I would look at that pejorative sense of sloth and say, well actually no, there is a tremendous value in sloth. Can I say a lot of New Zealand men could possibly stop chopping the landscape and crashing things down and running round paddocks and kicking balls and possibly do nothing for half an hour, reflecting?

If they did that, what do you think the impact would be?
When we stop and we sit at the table, whether it's at the public library or whether it's at a cafe or whether it's by yourself at home, you activate the internal machinations of one's mind. You reflect on what am I doing now, what can I achieve today, where am I going, who are these people around me, who do I love, why am I here, why do I love this country, am making the world a better place? Inner-activity is fostered through inactivity. To sit at a table and dream you can conjure the whole world. In New Zealand we have a great capacity to bring fresh thinking to old-world problems. We are a small and innovative nation and we overcontribute on the global stage. Let's just celebrate thinking.

John Reynolds is exhibiting at Auckland Art Fair, on now.