• Thu. Jun 30th, 2022

In the townhouse of an artist and cabinetmaker

ByRandall B. Phelps

Apr 16, 2022

Chris McKeen / Stuff

“The bike is a new purchase, and it’s great for getting around town and exercising without having to exercise,” says Isaac Trebilco.

Artist, curator and furniture maker Isaac Trebilco lives in a rented cottage at Gray Lynn in Auckland with his wife Christie Putwain, a nurse, and their housemate and friend, Carl Henderson.

ISAAC TREBILCO: We have been renting this place for about eight months. One of the things I loved was that I could make a studio in the garage. I have a desk there, and I don’t have to put it away every time I work, I can leave everything behind so I can sit down and come back to it easily.

I don’t earn my living as an artist. I work as a furniture maker. I’ve been doing it for about six months and learned a lot of new skills – it’s quite creative. Before that, I worked as a gardener.

Isaac likes

Chris McKeen / Stuff

Isaac likes to “have fun” and play blues riffs on the guitar, which was a gift from his wife.

Work is only about four miles away and I cycle there if I can. My bike is a relatively new thing – I’ve only had it for about six months. It’s a great way to get moving and exercise.

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Art has always been part of my family. I have three sisters and all of them are interested in art. And dad is a musician.

I have always done things; in high school, I did designs for T-shirts. Then I studied graphic design at AUT.

Isaac is a huge vinyl fan, with

Chris McKeen / Stuff

Isaac is a huge vinyl fan, with “a pretty motley collection ranging from jazz, funk, disco, country and hip hop”.

I love music and I love vinyl. I like the fact that you put on an album and listen to the whole thing. Probably my favorite album I own is To go up by Herb Alpert. But I have a fairly mixed collection ranging from jazz, funk, disco, country and hip-hop.

My wife bought me the guitar as a gift. I love having it in the living room and having a clutter. I don’t play well – it’s not something I sit down and work on. But I like to play blues riffs, that kind of thing.

The knives were a 21st birthday gift from Isaac's parents.  He loves to cook but doesn't use cookbooks, preferring to research four or five recipes and then

Chris McKeen / Stuff

The knives were a 21st birthday gift from Isaac’s parents. He loves to cook but doesn’t use cookbooks, preferring to research four or five recipes and then “find a way”.

I lack a lot of discipline when it comes to music, but I’m pretty good when it comes to art. If I’m working on a painting, I’ll try to work until 11 p.m. I come home and enter the studio. It’s the only way to get the job done – just go sit down and do it.

My wife and I lived in Warburton, Australia for two years. It’s about 12 hours from Alice Springs – about as far as it gets. It was an incredible experience. It was probably one of the defining experiences of my life, I would say.

I saw a completely different side of the world than I had ever known – the poverty and suffering that people go through. I grew up in Papakura (South Auckland) so I had seen poverty. But it was different.

This Aboriginal work is by Dianne Golding.  Isaac and his wife bought it when they were in Australia.  It tells the story of the Seven Sisters, an Aboriginal Dreamtime story.

Chris McKeen / Stuff

This Aboriginal work is by Dianne Golding. Isaac and his wife bought it when they were in Australia. It tells the story of the Seven Sisters, an Aboriginal Dreamtime story.

We also lived in the UK. I worked as a gallery owner and that’s where I had my first exhibition. It was nerve wracking and I think I learned a lot about why I create work and what I mean.

We returned to New Zealand after four years abroad. I wanted to do something to help people, to do something relevant. I guess that informed my work with Ihumātao.

I went to Ihumātao before the big protests started. There was a discussion about art there and Pania Newton took a hīkoi around the earth. Then I asked to meet her and see if I could do some artwork.

Isaac Trebilco's work This Is Rauatu Land, Respect It was part of his Ihumātao series.

PROVIDED/Provided

Isaac Trebilco’s work This Is Rauatu Land, Respect It was part of his Ihumātao series.

The process is quite specific. I start by taking a photo of ahi kā and members of the #ProtectIhumātao campaign that Pania introduces me to. I then draw over it digitally and create layers of shading before doing an outline on wood.

My surname has its roots in the south of England, but I was born and raised in New Zealand. I would say that I identify with Pākehā, but I also like the term Tangata Tiriti because it evokes the Treaty and our obligations under it.

Isaac and his wife love indoor plants, but they need to be hardy.

Chris McKeen / Stuff

Isaac and his wife love indoor plants, but they need to be hardy. “Those who are well are those who survived,” he says.

Recently, I also participated in the curation of the pop-up gallery Toi Onehunga. Local artists around Onehunga applied, and we picked a group and exhibited them.

I like the conservation elements. I spent two years working as a gallery owner in the UK. I just like looking at the art, really, and helping the artists decide which pieces to show. I guess it helps to have a critical eye because when I was studying graphic design, critiquing your own work was part of the process.

I also did a piece for the Whales Tales Art Trail in Auckland this year. It’s a fundraiser for the World Wide Fund for Nature, so it’s a good cause.

The ephemeral gallery Toi Onehunga is open until May 1. Works by Isaac Trebilco and many other local artists are on display.