LivingInPeace Project Resident Artist Retrospective

When friend Erik Sanner became a “struggling artist” stereotype and almost starved on the hard streets of Tokyo, I thought something should be done.

I’d written a couple of articles about Sanner when working as a journalist in Japan, I attended his exhibitions and purchased some of his artworks. We became good friends and I followed his artistic career with interest.

Sanner had invested the full measure of his considerable creative talent into establishing himself as an artist in Japan and his failure to even be able to support himself financially suggested to me that aspiring artists like him needed help. When Sanner gave up on his dream to be an artist and went to work for CitiBank, I was convinced, something must be done.

I decided to do that something and moved to Karamea at the top of the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand and founded the LivingInPeace Project in 2004.

The stated objective of the LivingInPeace Project was to combine the elements of Art, Travel, Permaculture and Education into a sustainable business. The art facet of the project sought to provide aspiring artists like Sanner with a place for them to live and work and a means of assisting to promote and market their creations.

(Fortunately, Sanner returned to art once his financial situation improved and he is making quite a name for himself in avant-garde art circles in New York City, check out his work at
All aspiring artists face the same paradox; No one buys their work because no one knows who they are, and no one knows who they are because no one buys their work. Another challenge is that creative art skills and creative marketing skills are diametrically opposed and not generally found in the same person. The LivingInPeace Project aims to help artists become established by transcending such conundrums.

The LivingInPeace Project Artist-in-Residency Programme began in 2005 when Canadian artist Dave Besseling, whom I’d also befriended in Tokyo, came to Karamea for three months to concentrate on his drawing. He became the our first official resident artist and we have hosted an artist every year since.


Besseling went on to travel the world, collect a post-graduate degree in journalism, publish two books of poetry and a travelogue about his journey and is now the features editor for Gentleman’s Quarterly (GQ) magazine in India. The LivingInPeace Project and Karamea, as well as myself, receive a good mention in his book, which is titled “The Liquid Refuses to Ignite.”

Since 2005, the LivingInPeace Project has assisted aspiring artists to overcome the financial challenges of getting established and helped them develop their creative talent into a sustainable practice for life.

2010 and 2014 LivingInPeace Project Resident Artist Norma Burrowes.

2010 and 2014 LivingInPeace Project Resident Artist Norma Burrowes.

So far in 2014, resident artists from Northern Ireland, Canada, Italy and Germany have accepted residencies and the success of programme has expanded its capacity and ability to host artists.

Northern Irish artist Norma Burrowes returned to Karamea for her second residency in February 2014 to complete work she began during her first visit in 2010. She was fortunate to receive a travel grant from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland that covered her airfare and mitigated the cost of flying across the world in the name of art.

Burrowes arrived in 2010 as a photographer and used the images she collected to return in 2014 as a photographic textile artist. In the interim, at home in Antrim, N. Ireland, she had combined her passion for photography with her love for fabric and came up with a photo kaleidoscope tapestry that she presented to the LivingInPeace Project as a “tablecloth” for the long dining table at Rongo Dinner, Bed & Breakfast, which is the setting for many long discussions and much hilarity over communal meals with people from the world over. We considered the piece to be far to beautiful to spill wine on and decided instead to permanently install it on the ceiling above the table to preserve it for all to enjoy into perpetuity.

Table Cloth Norma Burrowes

The ‘Table Cloth” by Norma Burrowes

From her Karamea experience, Burrowes created a series of stunning kaleidoscopes from her photographs that take the beauty of nature and convert it into symmetrical fractal patterns that create an entirely new artwork that in turn reflect natural patterns, textures and colours.


Burrowes put together an art exhibition of her new work before flying home and was successful in selling many of the works. The exhibition was held in the Karamea Radio Station Lounge behind Rongo Dinner, Bed & Breakfast, which is part of the LivingInPeace Project accommodation facilities.

Norma Burrowes also agreed to an interview on Karamea Radio.

Dejana Lukac

2014 LivingInPeace Project Resident Artist Dejana Lukac

Dejana Lukac from Alberta, Canada also accepted a residency in 2014. Lukac comes from a background of abstract and graffiti art and uses those mediums to reflect on nature and mimic organic forms.

She arrived before Norma Burrowes had vacated the Artist’s Bach that is offered to resident artists and began her residency at Rongo Dinner, Bed & Breakfast. There she was able to live with the work of previous resident artists, which is on permanent display in the hostel gallery. She was also able to befriend Burrowes and attend her exhibition.

As a young world traveller, Lukac found instant rapport and empathy with the guests and staff at Rongo and together they did many expeditions into the Kahurangi National Park and immersed herself in the natural opportunities afforded her by living in Karamea as a resident artist. Her resultant work was steeped in the natural imagery and the textures, patterns and designs of the natural environment.

Lukac chose to show her work outdoors in the natural environs of the Karamea Estuary. Her exhibition was well attended by local people and visitors from many countries, including Germany, Belgium, Australia, Japan and Italy.


Karamea Radio Interview with Dejana Lukac.

Most artists make prior contact and schedule a residency before arriving, but others come as guests at either of the LivingInPeace Project’s accommodation facilities; Rongo Dinner, Bed & Breakfast, or Karamea Farm Baches and ask to stay on as resident artists.

Marco Gianstefani on location at Kohaihai, Heaphy Track, Karamea.

Marco Gianstefani on location at Kohaihai, Heaphy Track, Karamea.

This year, Marco Gianstefani, a documentary filmmaker from Milan, Italy, arrived at Rongo where he heard about the LivingInPeace Project from founder Paul Murray and one of the directors, Gerar Toye over dinner at the hostel. Gianstefani, who was formally the creative director for one of Italy’s largest advertising agencies, was looking for a subject for his next film and found it in Karamea, perhaps the most remote town on mainland New Zealand.

He stayed on as a resident artist for several months, collecting stories and footage about the project, it’s people and location. He was joined by friends Paolo Baccolo and Silvia Bazzini, who were in New Zealand testing a new high definition camera (EOS 1-D) for Canon. They also stayed as resident artists at the LivingInPeace Project to assist with the collection of footage for the documentary.

Gianstefani shot hundreds of hours of footage and conducted over 50 interviews with people involved with the LivingInPeace Project and residents of the Karamea region. He has now returned to Milan to begin the mammoth task of editing and collating the information into a documentary film that he hopes to enter into the Sundance Film Festival later this year.


While in Karamea, he also did his own radio show on Karamea Radio. He called his show “20-4- 20″ and it featured 20 soundtrack songs from 20 of his favourite films.

Karamea Radio Interview with Marco Gianstefani.

Shota Kawahara from Japan was another artist who discovered at the LivingInPeace Project as a traveller. He stayed several times at Rongo as a guest and as a Wwoofer (volunteer) to help run the hostel and the permaculture farm. Kawahara, a graduate from the famed Kyoto University art school, then stayed on as a resident artist and was unique in his ability to paint in the public gallery space while being asked questions and conducting conversations as he worked. He even recruited other travellers to assist him with his painting. Several of his works now form part of the permanent collection in the Rongo Gallery.


Kristin Mikrut from Chicago also arrived as a Wwoofer, she helped out for a while and then returned the following year as a resident artist. The highly creative Mikrut specialized in installation art and used her creative skills to engage the Rongo guests in her artistic projects. She had travellers from all over the planet who pass through Rongo writing messages for bottles that she built into a message wall, she also encouraged people to take a button and sew it onto their favourite piece of clothing to accessorise their outfit with a spot of art that then accompanied them on their travels thereby spreading her artistic influence throughout the world.

In another work, she collected postage stamps, colour graded them and then pinned them to a Rongo wall emanating from a silhouette profile of her own face made from cassette tape. The work represented her time as a LivingInPeace Project resident artist and her many thoughts.


Mikrut returned to her home in Lake Forest, Illinois, about an hour from Chicago, and set up ReInvent art gallery with her friend Cecilia Lanyon. The venture displays artworks, holds exhibitions, provides workspaces for artists and also hosts resident artists. She had met Shota Kawahara at Rongo when she was a resident artist and invited him to the United States to be a resident artist and exhibit his work at ReInvent.

(Read more here: Japanese Artist Shoto Kawahara Takes on Chicago)

The project hosted two more artists from the United States. Kyle Browne from Massachusetts in 2008 and Tokyo-based New Yorker Jason “Ponzi” Ponzuric in 2009.

Artist and educator Browne is a graduate of the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York and has a post-graduate art education degree from Lesley University in Cambridge Massachusetts.

During her residency, Browne matched her love or art with her passion for teaching and conducted life drawing classes and paper-making workshops at Rongo, did and art class with the children at Karamea Area School and also had an exhibition of the work she produced in Karamea.


Jason “Ponzi” Ponzuric, who is from New York, but has been living in Japan for over 20 years, stayed for three months as a resident artist in 2009. Ponzi also offered art classes for guests at Rongo conducting a life drawing session and a woodblock printing workshop.


A graduate from the Montserrat College of Art in Beverley, Massachusetts, Ponzi has made a name for himself in Tokyo as a “Live Painter.” He sets up his easel at live music performances and interprets the music with a painting in front of the audience. He has also been known to body paint female dancers as they perform and has now reinvented himself artistically as the guitarist and frontman in the popular Tokyo band “Tits, Tats & Whiskers.”


In the winter of 2009, Wellington-based videographer Ed Davis utilised the LivingInPeace Project facilities to make a music video for Auckland musician Donald Reid.

A tight production budget provided Davis with the artistic challenge he revels in…taking an opportunity and using his creative mind to produce excellence. To assist him, he recruited the Rongolians and the people of Karamea, who came out in force to see the project through.


The music video for Reid’s song “Hitting on Me” was filmed exclusively in Karamea on a single day on a budget of $500.

Israeli manga artist Tzook Marcel Har-Paz also arrived at Rongo as a traveller and became a resident artist after he revealed to us a special talent for drawing.

Tzook has never had any formal art training, but his father is an art teacher and artist and he has grown up in an environment where the use of the right brain is encouraged and fostered.

Fresh from a national service stint in the Israeli Army, Tzook was ready for the cathartic process of expressing himself artistically and the LivingInPeace Project artist residency was instrumental in not only helping him find his feet creatively, but also in lightening the mental baggage he carried with him from his time in the military.


During his residency, Tzook was interviewed by a Japanese TV crew who were in Karamea filming for the TV show “Sekkai no Hatte no Nihin Gin” (Japanese at the Ends of the World) about the life of my wife Sanae, who is from Tokyo. The film crew came to document her life in Karamea for Japanese television. The television crew were very interested in Tzook’s Japanese manga-style work and interviewed and filmed him at work for the TV show.

Tzook became part of the LivingInPeace Project. he helped out at the hostel, worked on the permaculture farm, went fishing with the guests and Rongo crew and became a “Rongolian” (citizen of Rongo) during his time as a resident artist. An amicable person with a great sense of fun and funny, he quickly found rapport with the people passing through and forged many a friendship with the people he met.

Filmmakers Elise London and Louis-Philippe Carretta (Louca) accepted a residency in the summer of 2012 to document the LivingInPeace Project. The pair met as students at the New York Film Academy and formed PassitOn Films after they graduated. The company creates short, documentary-style promo videos for businesses, organizations, and individuals who are passionate about what they do. London and Louca believe that “video can communicate that human element that still images and words can only reach for.”


LivingInPeace Project video by Louca and Elise:

Elise also kindly assisted me with an artistic collaboration by compiling a collection of photographs into a stop-motion production called “花見/花火 Hanami / Hanabi”

and a photographic story about the history of Rongo Dinner, Bed & Breakfast: See the short/medium and long-play versions of the slideshow below:

Belgian artist Arnaud Vanderkerken, known as PsoMan, arrived as a Wwoofer (volunteer), but stayed as a resident artist once his prodigious talent was revealed to us.

PsoMan also agreed to collaborate with me on an artistic project. He took one of my abstract art photographs and we used it to make the “Exhibition of One Photo”


Exhibition of One Photo by Paul Murray & PsoMan

In 2004, I walked the Heaphy Track to collect information and take photographs for the Web site. Along the way, I happened across a rock and took its image home with me.

I try and incorporate a metaphor in my abstract nature photos to increase their artistic merit.

To me the image represents the passage of life. The staircase through the photograph indicates the challenges and seemingly insurmountable barriers that we all face as we travel through time. Easy times when life is good are represented by the horizontal lines, the difficulties by the vertical…with the net result being an exponential increase that represents the gaining of wisdom, knowledge, experience, comprehension and proficiency and the steps get smaller as life progresses toward the end…the challenges of life easier to negotiate.

Looking at the photograph from different angles and rotations, it occurred to me that the image was interesting whichever way it was viewed and also that it could be joined to make patterns and flows that could be used to highlight the different perspectives and imagery in the picture.


PsoMan assisted with the project to blend the images together into a whole series of montage photographs that utilize the original shot to make beautiful patterns, new stories and art forms. The image was not altered in any way other than rotated, matched together and joined.

Almut Prange from Stuttgart, Germany was the most recent LivingInPeace Project resident artist. She arrived in May 2014 struggling with her muse, but soon found her creativity bubbling again after taking the opportunity to concentrate on her artistry in a quiet, peaceful place surrounded by the inspiration of nature.

After graduating with a Master of Arts degree from the Alanus University of Arts and Social Sciences in Alfter, Germany, Prange embarked on a world trip to put some perspective on her life and to decide how to spend hers. In New Zealand, she heard about the artist residency programme and applied. She was soon living in the Artist’s Bach at the Karamea Farm Baches complex confronted with the opportunity to spend six weeks concentrating exclusively on her art.

Prange got to work and produced numerous new works and also found new way to express her creativity. She collected driftwood from the nearby beach and estuary, studied the form and patterns of nature preserved in the wood. She enhanced the textures and lines by painting in concert with the art of nature and gradually recovered from her artistic malaise. She then began a series of abstract portraits that began to also select the natural patterns, shapes and designs she saw in the driftwood and in the surrounding Kahurangi National Park.


Social interaction with the staff and guests at Rongo afforded her a diversion from the intense concentration of artistic expression and an opportunity for rest, relaxation and good conversation over dinner after a hard day at the palette.

Over the past 10 years, the LivingInPeace Project has hosted a range of artists including; painters, photographers, poets, writers, musicians, sculptors and hosted live music performances, theatre, poetry recitals, book readings, clown performances, art classes and workshops. The stated objective of the project is to support art and artists and has done and will continue to do so.