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On the Wright track

In the bush, under the sea, and at his drawing table in the motorhome is where artist Leigh Wright is most comfortable.

Right now his and partner Cilla’s motorhome is parked in a Gisborne driveway while Wright prepares for an exhibition of his work at Miharo Gallery.

His pen and ink drawings are drawn from memory. He can recall, with photographic accuracy, topographical features such as hill ranges, a bend in a stream, a rock the water eddies around. Other features he includes for compositional purposes, or as quiet surprises, might include a dragonfly, spider, butterfly, a weta or kereru, seen only on close inspection. He knows the bush, as they say, like the back of his hand.

“I used to meat hunt,” he says.

“I moved to Gisborne in 1978 and started possum and meat hunting in the Ureweras. My drawings are based on those memories. The bush and scenes from nature are my main subjects.

“I do think I have a photographic memory. I can visualise a scene exactly how it was. I can remember the bend in the river and I can remember riding past that rock,” he says of details in The Meat Hunter.

In this illustration, a deer-hunter on horseback is the picture of weariness while behind him, a horse in tow holds its head high and pricks its ears in alertness.

“When you’re meat hunting you ride a docile horse. The friskier one you use as a pack horse.”


A self-taught artist, Wright taught art for several years and later worked as an art consultant.

His teaching career included a five-year stint as principal at Hangaroa School. Despite the demands of the profession, he still managed to produce artwork, including Mangatoatoa, a piece that took 200 hours to complete.

“You can only hang on for so long,” he says of the degree of concentration required for his style of drawing.

“My best time is from one to four in the morning. That’s my favourite time but it’s not the most popular time.”

Between bouts of teaching he longlined for tuna and in 1984 worked in Guy and Dunsmore’s rifle department.

A yellowfin tuna that landed Wright a national fishing competition title in 1986 is mounted on the wall at the Tatapouri Sports Fishing Club.

While his pen and ink images of bush scenes such as The Meat Hunter, Wairere Falls and The Otane are drawn from memory, and without reference to sketch notes, Wright’s drawing Mangatoatoa is an exception.

While living in Whakatane he took a party of nine, including his 11-year-old and nine-year-old children, other family members and friends on a seven-day trek to Waimaha Station north of Gisborne.

Apart from the hut they stayed in on the first night, the group bedded under a tarp for the rest of the trek.

Tree vs vine

Struck by the sight of a tall rimu tree with a northern rata clinging to the rimu’s trunk, Wright wanted to make a sketch of it but is not in the habit of carrying a sketchbook.

“I took the paper out of a Pocket Edition tobacco pouch and sketched the rata wrapped around the rimu. At home I got my two kids to stand in the lounge and look up and point so I could include them in my drawing.”

The pointillist style of pen work in Wright’s drawings is reminiscent of New Zealand artist, the late Rei Hamon’s technique.

But lacking the fluidity of a ballpoint pen, the Rotring pens Wright uses — with their needle-like, tubular nibs and capillary ink feed — tend to determine his distinctive style.

“You have to be careful with them because you can fold a nib easily,” he says.

“The tubular nib has a wire down the middle. The wire is like a miniature pump. When the tip touches the paper the wire releases ink into the pipe.

“I draw in mostly dots but for line-work I go to a bigger pen. You can’t make a mistake. I start with what I’m familiar with. Generally these are things that are alive.”

On the Wright track, pen and ink drawings by Leigh Wright, opens at Miharo Gallery, 118 Gladstone Road, tomorrow at 6pm.

THE WRIGHT STUFF: Artist Leigh Wright works at his drawing table in the motorhome that brought him and his partner Cilla to Gisborne for Wright’s exhibition opening at Miharo Gallery tomorrow night. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell