April sun in Cuba prompts artist's visit

Cuban artist Osmeivy Ortega Pacheco at work at Otahuhu College.

Cuban artist Osmeivy Ortega Pacheco at work at Otahuhu College.

When art teacher Malcolm McAllister went to Cuba in April to see how art is taught there, he didn't expect to return home with an idea brewing to bring one of the island's leading print makers to New Zealand.

But McAllister was so impressed by Osmeivy Ortega Pacheco's work, he obtained more funding from Otahuhu College benefactor and former Act MP John Boscawen, whose father Owen was once principal there, and the Wallace Arts Trust to bring Ortega to the south Auckland school.

Ortega is now two weeks into a five-week visit which has seen him working with McAllister's art students and those from the school's whakairo (traditional Maori carving school) alongside teacher and experienced carver Jay Mason. He is also visiting other south Auckland schools, including Al-Madinah, and will travel to Christchurch to meet artists there.

Some 15 of McAllister's students are crafting an enormous woodcut mural commissioned by Auckland Airport for the arrivals area at its international terminal.

Auckland Airport's general manager for people and safety Anna Cassels-Brown says the organisation knows high-quality artwork is produced in local schools and started the mural project three years ago to showcase that.

Bader Intermediate in Mangere and East Tamaki's Tangaroa College made the first two murals; this year the commission for the 2.4m wide and 1.2m high work went to Otahuhu College. The airport provides all materials for the mural which hangs for a year before being returned to the school that created it.

Otahuhu College's mural features scenes of native birds and people on the streets of South Auckland. Students need to finish the work in September for installation and unveiling in November.

Fahdil Ali, 14, loves making art and says watching Ortega work, particularly when he carves elaborate woodcuts in a matter of minutes, leaves him wanting to learn new skills and improve those he's already acquired in McAllister's classes.

McAllister's also been impressed by how proficiently Ortega works.

"I think the most valuable thing for the kids to learn is his discipline and focus - and that might not come naturally to teenagers - but to see an adult, who takes them under his wing and shows them the rigour of the art-making process, is something that will stay with them."

By: Dionne Christian
Arts & Books Editor, NZ Herald