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Artist Michel Tuffery wearing Woven Stars Bum Huggers

Michel Tuffery

Woven Stars is inspired by my family. Matariki was coming up and that's where the idea came from. We may move on, but the stars [our ancestors] are still up in the sky. How we weave the mats together and weave the stars together, it's like weaving the family together.

Meet the Artist Part 1: Michel Tuffery

Portrait photo and video by Stephen Tilley Video edit by Tiny Knight

Meet the Artist Part 2: How Michel Tuffery is Great Full...

On discovering his creativity…

It started off in my childhood when I had issues with writing, reading and talking. I actually had to go to a special school to learn how to talk, read, and write – I had a lot of anxiety issues because of bullying. So my art was actually my only outlet. It was a substitute to communicate to other people.  

 On the people that influenced his art..

[My creative style] is heavily influenced by my mother’s Samoan background, my biological father's background from the Cook Islands, Rarotonga, and from living here in Aotearoa – from all of these cultures. It's heavily influenced from my upbringing, from being brought up on the farm in Taranaki, to being brought up in the city in Wellington, and then having all the island family staying at our house. We had all these different nationalities – Dad's friends and Mum’s family often stayed with us  -so we got to hear a lot of different languages.

 On the importance of experiencing new cultures ….

Before I met my partner, Jayne, I was living on my own doing pretty much what every young person should be doing: going to other countries where they don't speak your language, travelling the world, having every experience under your belt.  We live on the most amazing part of the planet, which gives us the luxury of going out to the Pacific. And that's what I've done pretty much my whole life. Everyone talks about the OE, go to Europe, but my Europe is the Pacific. I've worked in the rainforest for eight years, on and off; in the Solomons, up through Melanesia. There are a lot of diverse cultures and languages out there for people to experience and learn from. 

On those who have made an impact on me…

Some of the people that have significantly influenced my thinking have passed on, but they’re still at heart with me. Jim Vivieaere: a Cook Island artist, brilliant curator, and amazing writer. Paulo Sulu'ape: a tatau artist (traditional Samoan tattoo), who did my pe'a (traditional male tatau).
They encouraged me to believe in my gifts and not waste the time you're walking around. A lot of people have inspired me, especially my mum and my dad who believed in me, and my partner Jayne, who puts up with my craziness. 

 On his creative ritual...

Make sure you live life to the max, as if it was your last day. One question I get asked about how I work is, "What do you think when you wake up in the morning?". For me, the first thing is, "Oh, it's not work. It's just being creative.". That's the first go-to thing for me. The coffee, the porridge, the ritual like Paddington Bear with your marmalade on toast. That's my ritual. My family knows this. I'll sit there for half an hour going through the newspaper and then boom, straight into work. Well, not work, but just what I love doing.

On finding your passion…

That's the thing - it's like you're in love with something. It's like a good tune or a good sound and when you're on a roll, the time just goes really fast and it's hard to slow it down because you’re enjoying every moment. It doesn’t feel like work.  

Be prepared to not sleep. Be prepared to work 24/7, and be prepared to be flexible. Go out and experience everything. And I think the best advice I could give to any young artist who's just starting out, or an older artist who's retired from the job, is actually it’s the mental therapy that it gives back to you. Not worrying about what everybody else thinks. If you put the love into it, it will give it back. It's just one of those things that sounds simple to do, but is hard work, mentally.