Take a short trip to Drews Ave and have a look at Orphic Gallery. It's next to the big building where the Wanganui Chronicle once reigned and where Jack Mitchell-Anyon now makes coffee. Two big, dark doors guard Orphic from the street, but through those doors is an exhibition featuring oil paintings and clay sculptures by Polly Cleverley. "Bowing and Scraping ... To Whom and for Why ..." is across the road from Polly's shop, Wolves in chic clothing, which is directly beneath the studio and gallery she shares with partner Duncan Smith. Their studio is called artso, which is short for artsolutely ... well, that's the polite version.
The exhibition title, "Bowing and Scraping ... To Whom and for Why" came about, says Polly, because she's at an age where none of that matters any more, where she's no longer "bowing and deferring and hiding and minimalising and silencing everything that I had to say."
Polly has been painting for 20 years, on and off, but very "off", because she was trying to make a living doing other things. "I also reached a stage, and have a wonderful opportunity of a studio to work from, and a lot of artists don't have that privilege of being able to work in a studio, shut the door and walk away, then go back the next day and resume the same painting. Nobody interferes with the process so I am now painting every day.
"I've come into a space in my life where things are very simple and I've got a few boxes I'm interested in bouncing in, and, pretty much, number one is painting."
Polly found Whanganui after a two decade search for who she is and where she wants to be. She comes from Oamaru, evidence of which can be found in some of her paintings. She points to architectural features like columns and arches, plinths and towers, abundant in the buildings of Oamaru. "It was a very wealthy town in its heyday and is having a bit of a resurgence now with steampunk and Victoriana."
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A small, white rowing boat also makes an appearance on more than one canvas.
"My father and I spent three years in our backyard building that bloody white boat.
"I don't know why it's cropped up, but it's everywhere at the moment."
There are landscapes and geophysical forms from North Otago hiding in plain sight — "all of those beaches, all of those horizon lines" — are all familiar to her. "They're all my homeland.
"Kakanui was my coastal town where we had our crib where I spent all my summers." You can see the slices in the landscape where they carved out Oamaru stone for building.
Shallow water is in many of her works, reflective of Polly's astrological influence and personality.
Across the road, above Polly's business, there is an array of art produced by Polly and Duncan — two artists in the same space.
"We found that we work perfectly together and so we both started to produce at a greater rate because we had each other's support," says Polly.
Having seen Polly's work at Orphic Gallery, you might want to pop across to her clothing design business and ask to see more upstairs. There are surprises in store.