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Artist spotlight: Te Mete

Mon 6 May 2013 In: Entertainment View at NDHA

Artist Te Mete’s work comes from an unconventional background. He spent some of his earliest years watching the ocean and staring at glow worms as he and his family lived in a cave. Born Te Mete Solomon Smith, but known simply as Te Mete, the 28-year-old describes himself as a deeply symbolic, abstract, portrait and landscape oil painter of Ngati Porou, Ngati Ranginui, Ngai te Rangi, Te Arawa, Tainui, Irish and French descent. On 18 May he will hold a solo exhibition of his work at the Gay Ball at the Chateau Tongariro. He'll show pieces from his ‘Pink Light’ and ‘Same Love’ series, one of his favourite pieces will be auctioned, and the proceeds to be donated to the New Zealand Aids Foundation. Chateau General Manager, Kathy Guy describes Te Mete’s oil on canvas works as “exquisite, thought provoking and simply sublime". Born to a Christian family in Tauranga in 1985, Te Mete's parents moved to a small settlement near Te Kaha called Whanarua Bay. His parents decided to raise Te Mete in a cave on the shoreline. He credits this early alternative lifestyle and picturesque setting as the foundation of his artistic adventure. “Living in a cave was my introduction into New Zealand’s amazing raw beauty, it was also the foundation where the early years of my childhood were spent learning things about the ocean and the bush, it was like Survivor, actually I remember when that programme came out on TV and I thought, what are these people complaining about?” Of course some people thought living in a cave was weird, but it was Te Mete’s world. “My parents were dedicated hippies and lived out of the box to social norms,” he says. “One memory I have locked away is of my mother pulling out a wheelbarrow from her Morris Minor, and filling it with groceries, we would then push the wheel borrow across the beach of Whanarua Bay until we came to a stream and then we’d have to get drenched in water lifting the wheelbarrow up over our heads and continue to walk along the beach and thorough the bush to get to the cave, it was such an ordeal. Eventually when we got there, it seemed totally worth it, we would arrive at our own secluded bay.” Hot Like Hell from the Pink Light series Te Mete says it was Paradise, which his father made habitable and functional, even tiling the ground with cut up drift wood and concrete. The artist’s fondest memories are of the glow worms at night, or climbing to the top of the cave and looking out at the view. “The funny thing was when my parents bought a house which was only a couple bays from where the cave is, most people would think I would have been excited to be part of social living norms, but the truth is, I would still go back to the cave by myself and visit it,” he says. “Over the years the ocean has caused erosion, but you can still see remnants of when we used to live there. “To me it’s beautiful, it just depends on how you look at it.” When he was 10, Te Mete moved in with extended family, and grew a special bond with his grandfather, kaumatua and artist Tarawhati Frank Wati Clark. “It’s difficult to condense how he inspired me. The only true measure of his influence in my life is that he is the only person I’ve met that I’ve wanted to be like,” Te Mete says. “He had an amazing heart, and a light that shone in his presence, everyone who knew him says the same thing, he was a very clever man and spoke poetically, with a certain gentle ease that made everyone feel connected. “He had charm, wit, and an elegant manner, he was amazing. Throughout his life he remained humble in every sense of the word.” Thanks to his grandfather’s inspiration, Te Mete was already exhibiting in local galleries at 14. When he was 16 he went to art exhibitions in Hamilton and saw large-scale works from Ralph Hotere, and other New Zealand artists. “I was mesmerised and had an innate feeling inside that was what I wanted to do with my life. So I did.” So, at 17 he headed to Auckland to study a Bachelor Degree in Art and Design at AUT. This is where, he says, he found his ‘artistic conflict’ through the combined complexities of his identity, sexuality, culture and the religious beliefs he was raised with. Moving to Auckland was an easy decision, as he had always loved big cities. “I was very eager to make my mark in the world, but at the same time I was a very careful and responsible kid who was very focused,” he says. “I wasn’t remotely interested in anything else. Until one night I was walking home from uni, I was 18 at the time and I saw a club open on K’ Rd and popped in and saw my first gay rave. “I couldn’t afford to go in. But I guess that’s what planted the seed to my curiosity, it helped me to learn more about the world of the GLBT community and I got to meet so many different people who have all taught me something about myself and also the Christian values I was bought up with. “I needed to broaden my mind and perspective on life and the purpose that I lived with. Over the years I’ve been blessed to have made some very strong and amazing friendships.” The influence of the GLBT community is strongly reflected in his work, especially where he has gathered people's stories and put them on canvas. "Some had really sad stories and most had been condemned, beaten, raped, abused, disowned, bullied, and suffered from some sort of hardship, but I felt privileged to meet so many people from all walks of life whose stories always resonated and woken something within me." Te Mete believes when you put your guard down and share your stories, it only allows people to connect more. This is part of every step he takes when he creates a work. “Every morning before I start to paint I have a ritual, I go for a walk and then sit at on the beach in front of my house and I imagine that somehow what I create, someone will connect with it, and that person will find meaning and purpose in it, however profound or simple just as I have the purpose and meaning to paint it – it is the ultimate human connective spirit that somehow we are all connected and more alike than we are different.” Of course art has also helped him personally. Te Mete was holding his Papa’s hand when he passed away last November. “I think painting has been my therapy particularly lately after losing my Papa. He was really like my father because growing up my dad travelled overseas working on ships and oil rigs, I didn’t see much of him even when he was home. So the truth is art has always been my best friend and something that I can always turn to.” There will be 10 or more pieces of Te Mete's work exhibited and for auction at the Chateau Tongariro, more details and artworks are shown on his website, Te Mete will also be using his artistic skill to support the Gay Auckland Business Association in their upcoming annual Fundraising Auction in August, plus he is planning another solo exhibition. Te Mete and Louisa Wall He recently met with Labour MP and marriage equality champion Louisa Wall in her Manurewa home, where he took a picture that he is using to paint a portrait. "Truly an honour and a memory I will keep treasured," he says of the experience. "It’s not very often in my life that I get nervous in the presence of someone else, but when that someone has really inspired me or in fact validated and aligned my thinking to be that of something I have believed in since I was a little boy growing up in Te Kaha, I not only become nervous but also enlightened that someone believes in the same thing I do." Jacqui Stanford - 6th May 2013    

Credit: Jacqui Stanford

First published: Monday, 6th May 2013 - 10:59am

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