For fashion designer Karen Walker, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki has always been a place to escape the everyday – ‘a portal that never fails to take you into disparate eras, seasons, places and moods.’ The designer’s latest collection with the Gallery – a trio of lustrous silk scarves – embraces this escapism, creating irresistible summer daydreams inspired by works of art.
Each scarf comprises one of three artworks rendered onto silk: Laura Knight’s painting, The Bathing Pool, 1918; Walter Bayes’s oil painting, Lady with Sunshade; and New Zealand-born Maud Sherwood’s watercolour, Girl in the Boat, 1922. All three artworks feature in Romancing the Collection, an exhibition that offers audiences an opportunity to fall in love all over again with the city’s public art collection.
Karen Walker shares the process of conceptualising and creating the range and the special relationship that she has with Auckland Art Gallery.
Priscilla Southcombe: Tell us more about the relationship between Karen Walker and Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.
Karen Walker: Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki’s been part of my world my entire life and is one of my favourite places for escape and reset. It’s such a treasure for Aucklanders and visitors alike, and a truly happy place for me. It’s one of the best places I know to escape the everyday – it’s a portal that never fails to take you into disparate eras, seasons, places, moods, and stories.
PS: How did you first get the idea to create these scarves for Auckland Art Gallery’s shop?
KW: I was honoured to work with the Gallery as part of their Frances Hodgkins retrospective in 2019 and was keen to delve into their permanent collection to create a trio of silk scarves capturing the mood of summer for 2021/2022.
PS: How did you conceptualise the work?
KW: We wanted to create a trio of scarves that would immediately evoke a summer mood. We were thinking seaside scenes that make you – very strongly – want to be in that place and time. We asked the Gallery to share artworks in their collection that fitted that brief – the three we selected jumped out straight away as being just right.
PS: What aspects of the artworks inspired your collection?
KW: We wanted to encapsulate the feeling of an escape to a dreamy day at the beach, evoking the delicious drowsiness of a sunny day of sandy toes; water lapping gently against a dinghy that’s content going nowhere in particular; and the hypnotic fun of examining rockpools. The Gallery had the perfect trio of paintings that enabled us to escape into a utopian summer’s day, with a timeslip into nostalgic otherness.
PS: Tell us about the process of creating the scarves and the importance of a limited-edition run.
KW: Once the idea and brief were in place, the process was to find the right paintings and then lay them up in our scarf format, with just the right colour for the framing. Our silk scarf stories are always limited edition because that helps to make them even more special.
PS: What’s the secret to success when collaborating with other brands?
KW: Only work with people, brands and organisations that you like, and those that inspire and excite you.
PS: You’ve travelled extensively, but what makes New Zealand art and the experience of visiting Auckland Art Gallery unique?
KW: What makes the Auckland Art Gallery unique and special to me is partly because it’s so much a part of home for me. It’s ‘my’ gallery. I feel at home there and, as an Aucklander, feel so proud of it. Every gallery in the world gives a different experience, and Auckland Art Gallery is special because it manages to be intimate and grand, local and global, traditional and modern, and there’s always something there to be lit up by.
About Karen Walker
Auckland-born designer Karen Walker has established a cult international following. Karen’s signature energy and optimism define her label. Her designs cleverly play with cultural subtext, juxtaposing luxe and street, masculine and feminine, folk and utility, creating pieces that are both forward looking and wearable. Karen’s influence has seen her consistently ranked in the Business of Fashion’s powerhouse BoF 500, reflecting her position as a key global industry figure shaping the future.
Laura Knight, The Bathing Pool, 1918, oil on canvas, 748 x 873mm, Mackelvie Trust Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
Walter Bayes, Lady with Sunshade, oil on canvas, 477 x 437 x 42mm, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1956
Maud Sherwood, Girl in the Boat, 1922, watercolour, 453 x 558mm, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1966