When 18-year-old Pauline Kaimarama is working on her masterpieces, nothing else matters around her.
But like most creative people, Pauline is hard on herself – she often picks out mistakes in her work that no one else sees.
Screws them up, throws them away and starts again.
It’s a blessing and a curse for anyone who is an artist – the desire for perfection.
If she had listened to the people who told her she was wasting her time taking art at school, she would have given up long ago.
Art will get you nowhere, it’s a poorly paid job and it’s hard to get “discovered”, they would say.
But through the guidance of her art teacher Charlotte Cousins at Tereora College and her parents, Pauline is on her way to great things.
There were 3000 students doing painting across Cook Islands and New Zealand. Pauline achieved Excellence Endorsement for NCEA Level 3 Painting – putting her in the top couple of per cent.
She is the first Tereora College student to attain this result.
To top that, she was also awarded NCEA Scholarship in Painting for 2019 – another first for Tereora College.
To be eligible for the Scholarship, Pauline had to submit an eight-page extract from her written work and research, detailing the evolution of her ideas from throughout her years’ work.
This result means she was within the top 2.85 per cent of all of painting portfolios from 2019.
That’s an incredible achievement, her art teacher says.
At primary school Pauline says she wasn’t very good at art.
Her friend provided inspiration and liked to draw cartoons, so Pauline used to sit with her and started copying cartoon characters out of colouring-in books.
Drawing was fun – it was something she did in her spare time.
Although she took art as an option when she was a junior student at Tereora College, it was in year 11 that she really started to focus.
But rushing, she says, robbed her of a Level 1 Excellence Endorsement.
A mistake she wasn’t willing to make again.
Her passion grew and so did her ambitions. Her painting skills “weren’t that great”, Pauline says, but she was “pretty good at sketching”.
She focused on the disciplines she wasn’t strong in like painting and searched for influences both local and international including Jesse Reno, Tim Maguire, Tiffany Bozic and Tim Buchanan.
Turning 18 brought a whole lot of temptation into Pauline’s life.
In year 13 at school, she had licence to “hit the clubs” and do other things that adults do.
And at first she did.
“Term 2 and 3 I kinda went down the whole road of, oh I’m 18 I can do what I want!”
But her Cousins saw things that Pauline couldn’t see, like her talent and curiosity. She kept ringing Pauline, and her parents.
And Pauline found her motivation again.
Her fear of insects and “creepy crawlies” – in fact anything with four legs – inspired her portfolio for 2019.
Not only did this make Pauline face her fear head on, it also helped her understand other things around her own culture and identity.
Coming from a family of strong Christian faith, issues like the arrival of the missionaries and colonisation were confronting, but provided a lot of inspiration.
“I’ve started asking questions about a lot of things,” she says.
The general misconception among people who don’t appreciate art, especially abstract, is that anyone can do it.
Comments like “my four-year-old’s scribbles must make them a budding Picasso” are simply wrong, Cousins says.
There is a certain amount of sophistication and attention to the finer details that an artist must have to produce work like Pauline’s.
Fine stitching to resemble a spider’s web, weaving and the use of natural resources like coconut husk are telling as far as how broad Pauline’s artistic talent is, Cousins says. “Pauline has always been curious and every year she just kept pushing.”
Renowned artist Mike Tavioni has offered to exhibit Pauline’s work.
Pauline’s scholarship prize is a financial contribution, should she continue her art education at tertiary level, and is available to be used in any year over the next four years depending on her plans.
Furthering her art education is on the cards, with Brigham Young University in Hawaii being one of the institutions she is considering.
She started working at the beginning of this year, but didn’t like it very much.
“My sisters always told me to make sure that you enjoy what you’re doing,” she says.
All Pauline knows is that she wants to be an artist, who is proudly from the Cook Islands and an influence to those who want to follow in her footsteps.
The late nights, when there was little or no sleep were all worth it she says.
Encouragement from her parents and her teacher, will never be forgotten. This result is an achievement for them too.
“There is a student here at Tereora who always comes up to me and says I want to be just like you, to be an influence for someone is pretty special,” she says.
“If I could paint all day I would. It’s my passion and what I love. I can’t predict what the future holds but art is definitely part of it.”