Whangārei award-winning artist Jenny Bennett doesn't share renowned Friedensreich Hundertwasser's famous style but she's enjoyed weaving his technique into her own sock patterns of late.
The painter of 40 years has recently undergone open-heart surgery so she had to down tools. Instead, she upped-sticks – knitting needles, that is – and tried a different style of art.
Over nine months, Bennett has completed almost 30-odd pairs – each sock takes up to five hours – following Hundertawasser's irregular line and multi-colour technique. These will be sold at the gift shop when the Hundertwasser Art Centre (HAC) opens, planned for December 15.
"I have always knitted but my main passion is painting, which I have done for over 40 years," said Bennett. "I see knitting as one more medium for creativity using colours and patterns. In the 90s I became impressed and influenced by Kaffe Fasset's knitting patterns and techniques. I gradually developed my own design repertoire and began selling garments."
Much of the wool has been sourced from donations to the Salvation Army store. Bennett also learned how to spin and dye, which meant she could create her own yarn to add to the mix.
"I love wool and the recycling concept. Much comes from people's unfinished projects, including some of the paler yarns which I have dyed."
The socks are all knitted by hand using four needles and four-ply wool. She had enjoyed the freedom of weaving Hundertwasser's irregular lines and multi-colour into her usual knitting.
"I'd call it challenging to knit a sock from one end to the other with one ball of wool because I'd find that boring. This is fun.
"Though each one is unique, they do pair with another in an 'odd' sort of way: this was done in acknowledgement of Hundertwasser's love of odd socks," she explained.
Hundertwasser often designed and created his own clothes, including socks. He once said, "A free man wears free clothes. If the second skin of man, his clothes, is uniformed, made by soulless machines or dictated by fashion, it will be like a false skin, like a foreign body."
One of the most celebrated artists to come out of Europe in the 20th century, Austrian-born Hundertwasser celebrated irregular lines and contrasting textures and colour and was acclaimed for his work with colour and mosaics.
The Kawakawa-based New Zealand citizen of 30 years was invited to select a building in Whangarei suitable for one of his architectural transformations for an art centre within. He decided the former Northland Harbour Board building at the Town Basin would be ideal to turn into a work of art - thus becoming his parting gift to Northland.
After his death in 2000, much controversy surrounded the $33.2 million project before work began just three years ago.
The project has employed more than 500 people, with the construction involving tens of thousands of coloured tiles and 40,000 recycled red bricks. It has the largest afforested roof in the Southern Hemisphere and, in June, a 90m2 golden cupola was transported by barge down the harbour and craned to sit atop the building.
International tourists were predicted to make up 42 per cent of the visitors to the completed centre before the pandemic took hold. It will house the only permanent collection of Hundertwasser works outside Austria and be the new home of the Wairau Maori Art Gallery.
The gift shop will exclusively sell Hundertwasser merchandise, such as tile jewellery made from tiling off-cuts from the build crafted by local Maree Benson, as well as high-quality hand-crafted items such as Bennett's mismatched socks.
Once she recovers from surgery Bennett was planning to put down the knitting needles and pick up the paintbrush so that the 30 pairs would be exclusive to wearers.
"It's a one-off thing because I'm not going to sit here knitting socks for the rest of my life," she laughed. "I want to get back to painting."
And if the reaction to a post on the Hundertwasser Facebook Page about Bennett's venture is anything to go by, they will be snapped up, with commenters citing it a "fantastic use of wool odds and ends", "Works of art", and "100 per cent yes".
"Knitting the second sock will never be a chore again, matching socks are overrated," said one.