Laree Payne: From Kirikiriroa to the World

Laree Payne’s commitment to Kirikiriroa/Hamilton, the fourth largest city in Aotearoa, is the driving force behind her gallery.

Words: Abby Cunnane

Photography: Kate Micaela

“I wanted to work directly with artists,” says dealer Laree Payne. “To understand how they’re thinking, and to genuinely support their practices through challenges and opportunities alike.”

This line of thinking has driven all the decisions that Payne has made since establishing her space in Kirikiriroa/Hamilton, in 2018 (self-titled since 2020). It took two years for her to be able to go full-time, leaving other work to concentrate on what is increasingly becoming a well-recognised space in Aotearoa’s dealer ecology.

Now in its second premises, an airy concrete-walled former bank which sits overlooking the Waikato Awa (river), Laree Payne Gallery represents a slowly but surely growing list of artists from Aotearoa and Australia.

Payne wears her commitment to the city on her sleeve. Resisting what can feel like an almost gravitational pull towards Auckland, she says: “It is important to stay put. Kirikiriroa is the fourth largest city in Aotearoa. Out of the seven largest cities in Aotearoa, we are the only one without a dedicated public art gallery. Obviously Laree Payne Gallery cannot stand in in this regard, however it is my firm belief that our communities should have access to quality contemporary art made by artists from within but also from outside of this region. This is something I am proud to offer Kirikiriroa.”

In addition to the ongoing work of running the gallery, in 2022 Payne was approached by MESH Sculpture Trust to curate its fifth project. Since 2010, MESH has commissioned four large scale public artworks for Kirikiriroa by established Aotearoa-based artists, Seung Yul Oh, Lonnie Hutchinson, Michael Parekōwhai and Robert Jahnke.

Payne says, “Working with MESH has allowed me to work on a project of scale, within a team, and with an artist whose work I love and whose practice I have respected for many years. It is also an opportunity to contribute to placemaking here, to the contemporary public art offering, and to the betterment of our growing city. It is energising to be in conversation with a passionate board, who fully understand what contemporary art can do for a city.” The artist for MESH’s fifth project will be announced in the coming months.

The gallerist is thinking on multiple scales. While Kirikiriroa and local engagement remains at the core of its identity, Payne also enjoys thinking about the gallery’s involvement in national and international dialogue. Present at the Aotearoa Art Fair every year since 2019, she values the breadth of audience this offers, as well as the opportunity for interested observers and collectors to connect with the gallery in person. Later this year, and for the first time, Laree Payne Gallery will be at Sydney Contemporary with a solo presentation from Aotearoa artist, Sarah Smuts-Kennedy. Smuts-Kennedy has recently joined the gallery’s roster, as has sculptor-jeweler Jack Hadley, and painter Hannah Ireland. Each of the artists have worked with the gallery for some time, two of them for nearly three years, exemplifying Payne’s deliberate and considered approach to growth.

When you ask Payne what she is looking for when she takes on an artist, the answer is characteristically direct: “Authenticity. For me, this is the most important factor (beyond already thinking that the work is good). I want to know that the artist’s practice is a genuine extension of themselves and of how they see the world. If this holds true, all the subsequent steps in their practice come more naturally, decision-making flows, and we are on solid ground to move forward.” Payne is drawn to works with “focus, intensity and character”. Looking at her program you can see what she means: bold work, confident in style, subject and positioning. Represented artists include Whanganui based photographer Tia Ranginui (Ngāti Hine Oneone) whose vivid pop-gothic photographs incline to the bogan and beautiful, and Teelah George whose works are materially rich, and rigorous in their connections to art history. Notably, 80% of Payne’s represented artists are women, which is mirrored in the gallery’s programming. Indigenous representation is also primary. Payne expresses it simply: “It is important to me that the artists that I show are representative of the diversity found in Aotearoa”.

This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 105, July-September 2023. 


Dealer Profile: Felicity Johnston

Art Collective WA was a unique proposition in 2013: a self-funded, not-for-profit gallery owned and operated by senior WA artists for themselves. It’s now coming up to its tenth year in business.

Dealer Profile: Laree Payne

Laree Payne’s commitment to Kirikiriroa/Hamilton, the fourth largest city in Aotearoa, is the driving force behind her gallery.

Dealer Profile: James Makin

Now in its third iteration, Melbourne’s James Makin Gallery in its new Collingwood space, is refined, serious, innovative and welcoming.