Rolph Hediger

Creative Patapatai

Artist Rolph Hediger is currently developing his project ‘For Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven’, a collection of interviews and portraits of various people from all walks of life which showed at Tauranga Art Gallery. We chat with Rolph about Fyodor Dostoevsky, van Gogh, and small town New Zealand. There’s a significant thread running through Rolph’s answers: he values people – meeting them, learning about them, and depicting them with ink and coffee.

Your occupation, job title, artistic discipline (or very brief description of what you do):

I’m a painter. My biggest project I’m working on at the moment is called ‘For Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven’. It’s a project where I interview people and paint their portraits. It’s all about listening to everyday people’s stories and trying to see things from a different perspective. I’ve been very fortunate to have it exhibited in the Tauranga Art Gallery.

What cities/towns have you lived in (or spent more than a few months in) beginning with the place of your birth?

I was born in Cape Town, South Africa. But when I was eight, my family moved to Vancouver, Canada. We lived there for a long time and it was great. We all came to New Zealand in 2019. I love it here. I don’t think there’s any place like it. I might never leave honestly.

What are the earliest stories you remember hearing? The ones that told you about the world?

I guess that would be all the Bible stories my mum read me. I love the Bible stories. There’s a lot of drama in them. And a lot of them deal with how insignificant we are as individuals, and how unpredictable life is, and how no one really has any control over anything, but you still have to try your best. I like those ones especially.

What’s your favourite Bay of Plenty landscape, park, building, location, suburb, or side street? Why?

I like the Te Puke Quarry. It’s got all kinds of cool sculptures and things, and it just goes on forever. I don’t think I’ve even seen all of it.

What’s an average day in your life at present?

I’m doing a law degree at the moment, so that keeps me busy during the day. But in the afternoons and evenings I’m painting.

What music was present and still memorable from your youth/adolescence?

My mum listened to a lot of Afrikaans country music, and ABBA, too. When I was older I got into metal, and punk music a bit later. And I was very lucky to be living in Vancouver because there is a massive scene over there and bands would come from all over, all the time. That was really my first introduction to art. The bands that I first really got into were Electric Wizard, Death, Darkthrone, and stuff like that.

For you as a creative person, who are three influential artists or thinkers?

I think my favourite painter is Tony Fomison. I only learned about him when his paintings were shown at the Tauranga Art Gallery. I think that was two years ago. It was just amazing because I saw all these paintings that are exactly the sorts of things I paint. And even the way he distorts things and all the strange religious undertones are exactly like how I do it. And he’s even got a thing with hands, and I paint hands all the time. It was just so cool to see someone else who does exactly what I do. It was quite weird, actually.

I really like Fyodor Dostoevsky. He writes a lot about all these very sad and ordinary people just somehow struggling through life. And there are a lot about people not being in control of what happens, and just clinging to religion to just try and make sense of everything. I just find it all very relatable. And also just how rough his personal life was makes it so much more impactful. As far as themes go, I think I take a lot of inspiration from him.

And probably the first visual artist I really looked up to was Thom Devita. He worked as a tattoo-er in New York and he just loved making art. He made all these strange drawings and things, but he was my introduction into outsider art. Which is still very influential to me. Before I learned about all that, I had this idea that art had to look a certain way. But then I saw all these people making art just for fun and it wasn’t fancy or anything, but it looked amazing. And that’s when I really got into painting.

If you went away from the Bay of Plenty for a long time and then came back, what are the first three things you would do or visit?

I would see all my family and friends. I would go see all the art galleries and things. And I would go to the beach.

Looking back at your teen-age self: what one sentence describes that person?

I didn’t really know what I wanted and I kept to myself a lot; just general confusion I guess. I think that’s pretty normal.

If you had to eat the same meal every day, what would it be?

Soup.

What are you planning for 2022/2023 that nobody knows about yet?

I’m working on developing my project, ‘For Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven’. I’m working on big ink and coffee paintings that represent scenes from people’s lives, or things they spoke about, or thoughts I’ve had about the project in general. I’m also working with the Good Sheet Collective based at the Incubator. We’re working with the Free Lunch Theatre to make some stilt walkers. And that is very exciting. I’ve also been painting lots of flowers.

Who are your favourite or most admired figures from history?

The one I can think of right away is Vincent Van Gogh. Obviously I love his paintings, and they are super influential to me. But I also think he’s very inspiring as a character. With all the other great artists, they seem almost larger than life, but Van Gogh was such an average, very sad person. And still he became one of the greatest artists ever. He just seems very relatable, a lot more than the other great artists.

If the Prime Minister asked you to make up a new policy or law for New Zealand, what would it be?

It’d probably be something to do with the homelessness. I don’t know about other parts of New Zealand, but there isn’t a whole lot for homelessness here in Tauranga.

In one sentence, can you define art?

Art is when you represent things, anything.

What is missing or lacking from your Bay of Plenty community or environment?

I think we just need more art in general. We need more galleries and artist-run spaces. There are a lot of very talented and interesting artists, and there already are some amazing organizations. But I think we need more, in general. And I think it is moving in that direction, which is great.

Name a few films that you consider profound, moving or extraordinary?

One of my favourite movies is This is the Last Dam Run of Likker I’ll Ever Make. It’s a documentary about an old man in America, I think Tennessee, who makes moonshine. It’s not long, but the whole thing is just this old man making a big batch of liquor, telling all these crazy stories, and he’s got all these funny sayings and ways of doing things. You can hardly understand half of it because his accent is so thick. And there are all these other interesting characters who come in and out. It’s awesome.

Another movie I really like is Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It starts off with one lady who isn’t satisfied with how the police are dealing with a certain investigation, but it’s really just about all the different characters who live in the town. I like because I think it’s especially relatable. There aren’t really any ‘good’ or ‘bad’ people. And there’s no real resolution. All the characters just learn to accept their situation, even though a lot of them are worse off by the end of it.

What was your first real job, second, third?

My first real job that I was good at and managed to keep for a long time was when I worked as an ESL teacher. I worked for a Vietnamese company. It was really interesting working everyday with people who come from a completely different culture. I think that definitely had some impact on what I do now.

Where would you like to live, but have yet to?

I’d like to live in a more rural part of New Zealand. Earlier this year, I went to a tiny little town called Ohura. It was amazing. Life is just so much slower there, and people have so much time to do things they want to do. I grew up in Vancouver, which is massive, so I’ve never seen anything like that before. I remember thinking that Tauranga was small when we first came here. I want to see more small towns.

What word of advice would you offer an aspiring creative person?

I think you really just have to do it. And you have to get yourself out there and meet people. And you have to be good to people, because you can’t make it by yourself. And you never know who will help you get where you want to go. But the most important thing is to have fun and keep doing what you like. I don’t think an art career has to be spectacular to be fulfilling. No one gets into this for the money. And also, it’s a marathon, not a race. It’s all about being consistent. And there are lots of ups and downs.

What’s the biggest problem about life in New Zealand? How you would solve it?

I think mental health is a big problem. I’m not sure why it’s so bad here, but it is worse than in a lot of other places in the world. And it’s easy to dismiss it because, in general, things are a lot better here than in most other parts of the world. I think a way to deal with it is to give people things to do. I imagine that mental health might be worse in the smaller communities here where there isn’t a lot going on.

What is your dream of happiness?

I think happiness is when you’re just doing what you’re supposed to be doing. So, it’s roughly the same for most people: just hanging out with family and friends, being healthy, being productive, and things like that. But then we all have our own specific things that make us happy, too. For me, that’s painting.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself/your organisation?

If you are interested in being interviewed for my project, please email rolphhediger@gmail.com.

Thank you very much.


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