Award-winning artist and illustrator Gina Kiel is a breath of fresh air in the capital with her sunny outlook on life, love of colour and a deep-held passion for Wellington. Kiel is celebrating and enhancing the capital’s vibrancy one brushstroke at a time and she’s part of the city’s creative life blood.
From her home studio in Island Bay near the beach, Kiel has a bird’s eye view of Tapu te Ranga, known to locals as Rat Island. As a full-time freelance artist, Kiel is in her studio most days and it’s where the magic begins.
“It’s an amazing view and one that I am thankful to have each day,” says Kiel.
“Island Bay is an amazing retreat from city life and lots of artists and creative types live here. It’s a nice balance to the hustle and bustle of the inner city.”
With her work in demand around the world, Kiel says she is still happiest at home.
“I do want to travel and explore options overseas, but I love Wellington and can’t imagine moving away permanently. I will always return because it’s where my family network is and where my work is based.”
Kiel works with traditional and digital mediums and is known for strong, colourful work that explores notions of life, death and pop culture. Although she doesn’t overtly reference Wellington landscapes or icons in her work, Kiel says her creativity is fuelled by the city.
Her work can be found on record album covers, chocolate bars, roller doors, and – more traditionally – hanging on walls. She regularly collaborates on projects with one of Wellington’s top design agencies, Inject Design, and is represented in New Zealand and Australia by Sydney-based illustration agency The Drawing Book Studios, and in the US, by Deborah Wolfe at Illustration Online.
Kiel’s most popular public art work in Wellington city can only be viewed at certain times of the day – or at night. Creative production agency Wrestler commissioned artist Wayne Youle to paint a larger-than-life pop art Jean Batten mural near the entrance of their business premises in Jessie Street, and also gave Kiel free rein on the roller door to the building.
“Sometimes you’ll be lucky enough to see it, at other times – when the door is rolled up – you won’t. It’s a lovely element of surprise” says Kiel.
The capital’s intertwined creative network also led Wellington-bred singer Brooke Fraser to engage Kiel when she individually released four of her previously unheard songs; Kiel came up with customised illustrations for each song.
Likewise, a couple of years ago, the city’s much-acclaimed band Fat Freddy’s Drop collaborated with Kiel (and Inject Design, with creative direction by Harry A’Court) for the cover of their album Bluebird. Kiel and A’Court received the album-cover-of-the-year award at the Vodafone Music Awards.
One of her most recent projects was designing wrappers for local artisan chocolatiers, the Wellington Chocolate Factory, and for something completely different, Kiel was recently spotted in the window of Topshop Topman in Lambton Quay painting a pair of jeans.
Kiel welcomes the idea of accessible public art and believes it contributes positively to an urban landscape. “I have a passion for large scale works and mural work is the ultimate example of that,” she says.
Clients now approach Kiel after seeing her work around the city and that’s an upside of living in a city with compact scale.
“It’s awesome to see my work in public spaces and I believe that creativity feeds off itself. Wellington is small enough to allow creatives to express themselves and be noticed. In larger cities, it’s harder to get those opportunities.” - Gina Kiel, artist and illustrator
Admitting that she has so many ideas and projects running around inside her head, Kiel says it’s unlikely she will ever exhaust the creative avenues that are available to her.
“I always have a vision of new things that I could do, new ways that I could express myself and my aspirations are always evolving,” she says.
“Now it’s up to me to make it happen and get it out there.”