If you have recently opened your eyes around Wellington, you will have seen Gina Kiel - although you may not have realised it - yet.
From the mural on production agency Wrestler's garage opposite Pre-Fab Eatery on Jessie Street to the Fringe Festival Brochure to illustrations for Hells Pizza, Gina is literally painting the town. But who is Gina Kiel? I asked myself this question too - so I emailed her and teed up an interview at her Island Bay home to find out about the maiden behind the art.
"Light like ballerina en pointe, she peers out through her blonde hair, wearing a bright red sweater, tight jeans and light pink socks with pictures of sushi on them"
Gina is a rock n’ roll mama. I arrive at her sweet home in Island Bay and again, there is painting going on - only this time it’s Gina’s partner painting the outside of their house with his friend. They wave and point for me to go inside. I knock on the front door. Gina answers and greets me with a warm smile before ushering me through the door and into the family home. Light like ballerina en pointe, she peers out through her blonde hair, wearing a bright red sweater, tight jeans and light pink socks with pictures of sushi on them. Her little long haired son sits on the couch playing. “So”, she says “What do you want to talk about?”
Gina has creativity in her DNA. Born to two parents who loved music and drawing, an artistic life was written in the stars for Gina. Her half-dutch father was a stone mason by trade and a bass guitar player by night (his projects include stone placement in Waitangi Park and Otari Bush). “In school holidays, I used to work with him, mixing concrete, making stone walls - it was really fun.” Gina laughs. Her mother is a counsellor for NGO’s such as Rape Crisis and plays drums and guitar. “They met through music - mum was in a duo with her friend and they were looking for a bass guitar player. At the post office one day, standing around, they saw him, coming down the stairs - they were blown away by him! They then found out he was a bass player, quickly asked him to join their band and then he and my mum got together.”
“I remember when I would watch videos as a kid, like Fern Gully and the Little Mermaid. I would pause the video and draw the characters on the screen"
After a time, Gina came along. She was born in Wellington and grew up in Raumati South on the Kapiti Coast. “It’s really cute there. We lived in a little cul de sac. It was an amazing community where the kids were played on the streets and there were bonfires and parties all the time.” At first, life was all about nature, learning to draw with her parents and the freedom of childhood. “I remember when I would watch videos as a kid, like Fern Gully and the Little Mermaid. I would pause the video and draw the characters on the screen. And then I would press play and pause it on the next scene I liked” Gina says.
Gina at School
But as all children do, Gina had to go to school. “The teachers would get me to draw up wall charts on the classroom” Gina laughs “I got to sit at the teacher's desk and draw while the rest of the class was doing other stuff.” For high school, Gina moved into town - making the long commute of almost two hours each day from start to finish. First, she started at prim Wellington Girls High School “Wellington Girls felt like this large grey block place - I didn’t like the uniforms and the conformity” and then later to co-ed Wellington High School “I loved Wellington High School - I could wear colour and take the subjects I liked.” Gina studied design, fashion, photography, creative writing and painting. “I almost never went upstairs out of the art studios in the basement” she laughs.
“[Robert McLeod] influenced my work in a great way”
Gina quickly connected with her art teachers, particularly because they knew Gina was invested in the work, especially Robert McLeod (a well known New Zealand artist). “Some people didn’t quite get him - he could be very harsh! But he was one of my favourite teachers.” I ask Gina whether he encouraged her to make art in a certain way. “It was like working for someone like they were a client - he was guiding me, not teaching me. We would maybe have to choose an artist model and then he would give us straight up feedback. I really appreciated that.” McLeod helped Gina focus her style. Like a chameleon, Gina was able to draw in many styles. “His classes brought that in. He focused on certain things. Super abstract, block lines and really bright colours” she explains. “He influenced my work in a great way.”
During High School Gina worked in a cafe on Saturdays and Sundays, selling her art on the side that exhibited in the cafe. When school ended, Gina immediately went to work at a boutique animation studio on the Kapiti Coast called Simmonds Brothers. “I thought about Art School - I was 19 and planning to go - but then I just got a job.” Gina would draw frame by frame images on a lightbox. When she finished working there, she started learning from her uncle Gerad Taylor who was a commercial illustrator. He told her what computer to buy, how to use Adobe Photoshop and took her on for a few months “as almost an apprentice.” Gina then started to get work from friends, creating signs, logos and illustrations. Not long after that, she met her partner, Harry, who owns and was running Inject, a design, branding and strategy agency. He suggested that Gina might like to do some illustrations for Hell Pizza. Not long after, they got together.
Gina’s work gained momentum. She gained more clients and then was signed to an Australian agent. I ask Gina whether she ever felt the pressure to take a permanent full-time job for an agency rather than be freelance? “No,” she says without stopping for a moment to think. “I don’t worry about money. I was lucky I was always getting enough work.” Gina is a self-professed positive person.
However, times were not always simple or easy. The work enjoyable in itself does have demands. “When I was accepted to the agency in Sydney, I had to do my time to prove myself. There were about 2 years where I worked 7 days a week working until midnight every night. On one project, I remember working until 2am and then get up at 7am for 11 days straight. When you are working on something all day, every day, it's really intense.
"...My Dad had just been diagnosed...he had been given two weeks to live. Spending a week of that time working for Weta, doing those crazy hours… I was like “No” can’t do it”
Gina’s hardest choice came when she heard word that Weta Workshop, the world renowned film production studio based in Miramar, were looking for a concept artist. Richard Taylor offered Gina a week long trial. “But my Dad had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and he had been given two weeks to live. Spending a week of that time working for Weta, doing those crazy hours… I was like “No” can’t do it,” Gina explains. “It was hard trying to decide between my career and my family but I just knew. “Then Richard Taylor said to me ‘I would worry if you came to work here you would lose your style’ It was amazing because he offered me trial position anyway but I chose not to take it in the end.”
Leo the Lion
After her father passed away, Gina had two years pass by which she can’t remember. She continued to make art all the while but she acknowledges that those years somehow blurred. “No matter what happens to me, I would never stop. Whether it was the best time or the worst time, I would never stop making art. It’s like breathing for me.” Then another life change hit when Gina unexpectedly fell pregnant with Leo, her son.
“I was always keen to have kids but I had thought it would be later on. I freaked out a bit."
So what is motherhood for Gina? “I was always keen to have kids but I had thought it would be later on. I freaked out a bit. I had a sense though of being split in half. Who you were and who you become. It happens to you without being able to control it. My personality changed a bit. I went from being outward to being super mother-lion. I felt like I needed to be protective.” Would she recommend it? “One hundred percent. I always wanted to have kids. It is crazy almost sci-fi stuff. You grow a human in your body.” Now, it's all about family and Leo is being raised as a much-loved child.
“No matter what happens to me, I would never stop. Whether it was the best time or the worst time, I would never stop making art. It’s like breathing for me.”
Island Bay Home
Now the family is based in Island Bay. It's a stunning and pint-sized home. “It has a nice feeling - it’s small but it's not too tiny. It’s in Island Bay. My parents are up the road. It gets a lot of afternoon sun,” Gina enthuses. Gina continues to work on a wide range of projects - CD album covers, chocolate wrappers and a coffee cup artists series with eco takeaway company ‘Innocent Packaging’ who make compostable cups and lids. I had fun doing those!” Gina is also working on some more murals around Wellington. Gina knows that she will always be creative and contributing through her art. So my advice would be to keep your eyes peeled. You never know where Gina will pop up next!