Helicopter robots at The Mandarin Tree!

The Mandarin Tree’s next exhibition opens tomorrow.  Raglan artist Denise Fort talks to N8N’s  Annette Taylor about her art.

Denise FortTell us a little about yourself, your background and where you are now.
I was born in Munich, Germany. My parents came to Germany from Czech Republic and I came to New Zealand eight years ago. I fell in love with Raglan. I’m guessing because it was a nice contrast to the very busy world I left behind. I studied industrial design in Munich and freelanced as a concept drawer and illustrator.  But when I came to Raglan, I started to create art. I drew on all kinds of things, vans, cars, walls, guitars, shoes… eventually I started to make my own pieces.

Describe your art.
My art has its own world. The main characters are helicopter-robots and many different species exist, like the helicopter-butterfly or the most recently discovered helicopter-jellyfish-butterfly. Last year the helicopter whale and a special friend, a starfish, came into my world. I like to tell stories. My helicopter world tells mainly the story of colonisation. In my world there is no ‘nationalism’. The ones who arrive second recognise quite quickly that they have a lot of similarities, and at the same time they are seeing the differences as advantages and combining their best features of both worlds after a while. Both sides are very curious. I like using a very abstract way to question our society. My artwork looks very cute and innocent at first, sometimes only the title reveals the real meaning behind it. It’s always subtle, it’s never aggressive. My story doesn’t have an opinion, not one artwork standing alone anyway. All dwellers, robots or whales, are gender free.


Denise Fort


Technically my art is created out of black lines. I love drawing beautiful lines. I’m also applying my artwork on different media such as upcycled recycled stuff, furniture, wood, jewellery…

How did you start?
I have drawn ever since I can remember. I drew pictures for all my friends in kindergarten. Horses were the most popular request.  It happened that I studied industrial design, where I learned to appreciate drawing as a valuable skill in the design world. Today I can draw on so many different media, I can create jewellery and original artwork where ever I go.

Denise Fort


What projects have you got going now? What would you like to achieve in the future?
My biggest project is to travel again. I love it here and every time I thought I will leave some great opportunity came up. The last was to have this space for my gallery in Raglan. It was a short-term lease of 1-5 years which ended last month. Everything seems to point that now is the time to travel. The last two events planned in New Zealand before I leave are the exhibition at The Mandarin Tree and a pop-up shop, in the last two weeks of May in Auckland.

Where do you get inspiration? (For work, and for life.)
Everywhere! I love travelling, seeing different architecture, agriculture, landscapes and traditional art. Novelty inspires me. I love positive change. I want to live in many different places in the world because my art evolves quicker when I move.


Denise Fort


What is your advice for someone starting out?
I would check first with myself if that is really what I want. In my case everything I chose to do – working a salesperson, studying design, running my own business  – all choices were natural.  Every time I was offered an opportunity for my artwork I made sure it happened, even if it meant working seven days. I really want this life. I don’t want anything else althought it there are many hours in doing it. So I would advise, ask yourself, do I want to run a business or do I want to do art for myself and then create the life around it. We all have different needs. Just because I’m happy to draw every day doesn’t mean that’s a happy life for someone else. Create the life you really want.


  • Stories of the World of Helicopter-Butterflies opens on Wednesday 3 May at 6.30pm and finishes 7 June.   The Mandarin Tree is at 1035 Gordonton Rd, phone 027 777 8733.



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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

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