At the start of last year painter Simon Vine was living in the Czech Republic and teaching English as a foreign language, with no intention of returning to his hometown.
Covid-19 changed all that, writes Mike Tweed.
Sitting in his Prague apartment as the Covid-19 pandemic swept the globe, Simon Vine looked down at his passport.
"And I thought New Zealand is one of the best countries to be in right now."
So the artist returned to his country of birth and eventually made his way to his hometown of Whanganui, painting sporadically and studying English language teaching for adults.
Now he has an exhibition, Vessels II, open at Orphic Gallery on Drews Ave.
Vine said pursuing a career in art wasn't immediately on his radar when he left school.
"1991 was my last year at St Augustines, which is now Cullinane of course, and I went off to Massey in 1992 to study philosophy and English literature," he said.
"My oldest brother had been a Catholic priest and went on to study philosophy, so his academic achievements were what we were being tested against."
Vine moved to Wellington in 1997 and worked in a second-hand bookshop, before heading to Auckland.
"I took up with an art collective and started painting.
"From there, it's just a whirlwind, really."
Vine "met a girl" and left for Japan for six months, returned to New Zealand, then promptly departed to Toronto, Canada. He lived there from 2001 to 2004.
"I was renovating houses, painting and decorating. There was quite a bit of mural work as well.
"I went back a couple of years ago and all those murals are gone. It's a shame, but that's life I guess."
After Toronto, Vine completed a Master of Fine Arts at Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design in Auckland in 2009, and it was during that time when some of the pieces currently on display at Orphic Gallery were created.
"[In Auckland] I took over a big artist's house and property, and I basically became the manager of the place."
It wasn't long before he was on an aeroplane again, however.
"Some French tourists came to visit, we became friends, and they invited me to come and live in Paris for a while," Vine said.
"Time really flew, and I ended up being there for nearly three years.
"While I was in Europe I rode my bicycle from Paris to Pompeii, over the (Swiss) Alps from Lyon to Turin."
Again, Vine returned to New Zealand, fell in love with a woman from Montreal, and swiftly returned to Canada.
"Funnily enough, I was renovating houses again.
"Then I decided to try out English teaching and ended up in Prague."
The Covid-19 pandemic hit after he had been in the Czech Republic for nearly two years.
"I looked down at my passport and thought 'New Zealand is one of the best countries to be in right now', and came home.
"Aside from studying to make myself a better English teacher, I'm revisiting a lot of my old artwork with new eyes.
"I have the opportunity to look at it from a slightly less anxious perspective. I'm separate from them now, I have a bit of distance."
That artwork consists primarily of portraits, although they are not faithful recreations of their subjects.
Part of Vine's masters thesis involved talking about how visual representation had evolved during the Roman period, with statues of emperors being built in the centre of every Roman town, and their faces being used on coins.
"Julius Caesar is actually up on the wall for this exhibition [Vessels II], but it was Augustus [Caesar] who really got the hang of it.
"Augustus wasn't even his name, but he took it on because it meant noble and honest. He wanted to present himself to the masses as a certain kind of person.
"You see it every time Donald Trump does that horrible smile of his. He's trying to be relatable, like humans are.
"Aesthetics are a huge part of who we are, and it's kind of like an unexamined language. We examine written word and spoken word and accept that it's a form of communication, but people are a little less self-reflective when it comes to visual representation.
"We're susceptible to it, that's why advertising works so well."
Vine said despite his recent lack of artistic output, he still had the ability to paint incredibly quickly if he wanted to.
He completed some of the masters paintings in only a couple of days.
"Just before I left Whanganui again, in 2006, I actually got into martial arts and started doing a bit of taekwondo with some of the boys here, including George Jackson, who's got Rewena Bread now.
"It fed into my masters, with that discipline and routine.
"I think the only thing that could slow me down now would be some kind of physical ailment.
"Who knows, a bump on the head might even help things. I might get a new perspective."
Vine said his affinity for portraiture, aside from the challenge it presented, may have come from a medical condition he had as a child.
"It might just be personal mythology, but when I was a wee chap my hearing wasn't so good. I had what you call 'glue ear'.
"I was hyper vigilant in trying to work out what people were thinking and how they were feeling, because I couldn't really do it with language.
"It made me incredibly sensitive to changes in people's facial expressions. I was trying to avoid that next clip around the ear."
All of the works currently on display were stored in Vine's mother's garage in Whanganui, and Vine said there were other paintings scattered across the world.
"There's some in my girlfriend's parents' basement in Montreal, there's stack of it in my mate's storage in Paris, and there's a few bits lying around in Prague.
"I could do this kind of exhibition in lots of places.
"There's been a few I've destroyed over the years as well. I always took photos of them though, and I've gone back and looked at them and thought 'what the hell did I do that for?'.
"They were absolutely fine, there was nothing wrong with them."
Vine said he would complete a brand new series of works at some point.
"There are plans to do a new bunch. During one of my trips to Canada I ran around and took a lot of photos of women at a big exhibition in Toronto, and at a fair in Montreal I asked a lot of folks if I could photograph them.
"All the stuff here [Orphic] is sourced from the internet, but now I have a stack of photos that I took of people.
"That will be different, because I'm not as good as the people whose material I was using before. I'm really good to take slightly out of focus portrait photos."
The centrepiece of the current exhibition, The Girl with The Red Glasses, was based on a photograph from an eyewear flyer that someone handed him in Paris.
"To me, the spirit of it is this little girl that lived in the house where I stayed there.
"Another portrait here looks like my friend Laura, but it wasn't of photo of her that I was working from. I'd been thinking about her and spending some time with her, and she just came through into the work.
"That's the kind of thing you can't plan or force, but it's nice when it happens. It tells me something about memory and seeing our relationships with those around us.
"When people ask 'can I commission you to do a portrait?', I'm a little reticent and I'd rather not. They have an idea of what their friend looks like, but whatever comes out might be more about me than them."
Vine said his girlfriend was still living in Montreal.
"They have a curfew there, and they're still in lockdown. She can't leave Canada and I can't go to Canada. We haven't seen each other for a year, so it must be love.
"I was thinking about going to Vietnam next actually, if I can find a job.
"I'll always be from Whanganui though, no matter what part of the world I'm in.
"There's no denying it, and there's no escaping it. It's helped shape who I am."
• Simon Vine's Vessels II exhibition is on for the next month at Orphic Gallery (22 Drews Ave).