ArtStay review | creative holiday, New Zealand
Rejuvenate on a subtropical island with artist Gabriella Lewenz
The Quick Read: The defining focus of ArtStay is the gradual, graceful process of commissioning an oil painting by renowned Greek-American artist Gabriella Lewenz. You step into private retreat at Gabriella’s fabulous estate on Waiheke Island. It’s a flexible time for a positive exploration of this moment in your life, whether you’re celebrating what has been, or crystallising what is yet to come. Immersion in nature, discussion of abstract works in the studio, and time for self reflection are a potent and stimulating combination. You can organize a wide array of treatments, or simply enjoy the unspoiled landscape and eclectic island culture. Six weeks later, you receive the painting you have co-created. It is tailored to your aesthetic in colours and textures you love – and magically expresses in abstract, some essence of your core.
Who it’s best for: Women and men who want to give themselves a memorable time of spaciousness, stimulation and reflection. Perhaps at a pinnacle or in transition, they wish to mark a moment in time by unraveling, connecting with nature, and commissioning an artwork which reflects their very essence as well as their style. ArtStay suits those who enjoy abstract paintings, and who respond to beauty – natural, architectural and artistic. It often attracts creatives, visionaries, changemakers, entrepreneurs. You don’t need prior experience in commissioning art.
What you can do: Your days are your own. You have every creature comfort at home, and the use of an electric bike. The island is small so it is easy to dive into the many pleasures of Waiheke in a day: tasting wine, walking stunning headlands, swimming clear seas from unpopulated beaches, friendly cafe life. Yet the simplified grandeur and calm at Church Bay Studios is also a powerful invitation to drop into reading, writing and solitude, even if you’re not used to that. People have received inspiration for whole books here.
Gabriella may exhibit in galleries in NYC, Boston, Italy and Auckland and draw the admiration of collectors around the world, but when you are her ArtStay guest, she graciously fits around your movements, leading you on an ongoing enquiry which brings forth the brief for your painting. She questions you gently and intuitively about your life, its moments of significance and phases. Her reflections back to you are wise, and often laced with symbolism. In the studio she shows you her large body of work, and helps you to articulate your response towards certain colours, elements and ideas. Gradually the themes and qualities of your painting – and your personal journey – emerge.
Waiheke is famous as a healing and restorative place. As you unravel, Gabriella helps you to define what will deepen your retreat. You might need private yoga sessions, some creative coaching to advance your thinking, a massage or someone to blend a bespoke herbal remedy, shamanic healing even. Waiheke offers remarkable, world-class practicioners who you may book in advance, or once you arrive.
You leave Gabriella with an agreed commission for your painting – a sense of the colours, textures, and symbols which you’d like to appear in your work – and from here, her own creative muse takes over. About a month later, Gabrielle will show you an interim stage of your painting, either live or virtually. In a few more weeks the final work is unveiled at her studio, or shipped to you at home.
Where you stay: Off the North Island of New Zealand, Waiheke is a lush volcanic island, famed for vineyards, olive groves, beaches and an eclectic, cosmopolitan community. It’s a beautiful 35’ ferry ride from Auckland, yet a world apart. You are driven 10 minutes through colourful Oneroa village and over some steep rolling hills to reach Church Bay Studios. The homestead stands proud and alone, all warm ochre amongst bright green pastures and dark bush, one field back from the shore.
The Studios centre around a giant marble courtyard. Your house makes up one whole side of it; opposite is the painting studio, and adjacent, the home Gabriella Lewenz and her husband Claude built soon after they moved from New York City 21 years ago.
One great luxury of ArtStay is your peaceful space – a whole stylish house inspired by Mediterranean architecture and New York lofts: think double height ceilings, limewashed walls, terracotta tiles, exposed timbers. There’s a woodburning stove and a proper cook’s kitchen, two bedrooms to choose from, and a hot tub on your deck. The kettle is copper, the crockery handmade, the linen fine, the sofas deep. It feels at once homely and zen.
Huge windows gaze onto New Zealand’s dark green manuka forest, the surrounding medicinal herb garden, and pastures falling to the sea – no houses in sight. You have piles of art books, a well stocked fridge, nespresso machine and freshly picked teas, plus a big blank journal waiting for you. Gabriella suggests you walk the organic gardens or the coastal tracks before any conversations begin. With artists’ sensitivity, she actively creates a conducive environment for her visitor to settle, expand, and reconnect.
How was it for us: ArtStay was a surprisingly profound and delightful process. I arrived with busy head and tired body, not sure what to expect. But Gabriella settled me in the extremely comfortable house, and despatched me for a walk. We didn’t start discussing anything until I was truly ready. Her sensitivity to timing and place, I think, modeled a way to stop driving myself, and let something new emerge.
We discussed the transition I was in. Gabriella listened deeply and reflected my thoughts in graceful language that evoked my curiosity. My painting would be something to do with the contrast between what was and what might be.
We entered the studio full of tantalizing canvases and half-done studies. Overwhelmed at first by my differing reactions to the works, I worried that I would never be able to commission the ‘right’ painting for me. But Gabriella steers this process, and it’s alchemical, anyway.
Next day I studied Gabriella’s entire portfolio discussing the resonance of certain colours, textures and forms – and of the adventures I was having on the island. I loved the abstract language and free flowing symbolism in these chats.
By the second day, a strong shortlist of qualities and colours was forming. I worried that this was over-directive, and set forth for a walk on the nearby coastal track. As I came over the brow of the hill, a brilliant sunset was blasting its colours across the sea and a distant volcano. These colours were exactly those that I had discussed in the studio – a confirmation. I photographed the scene as the palette for my painting. Some magic had begun. That night , after an astounding ayurvedic masseur had visited, images coursed through my mind. I had an outpouring of ideas for my enterprise which kept me up much of the night. I lay in a bath listening to native owls, and dreamed. Six weeks later I gathered friends for the unveiling, nervous that I might not like my painting. But the moment the veil dropped I could see the colours that had touched me in the sunset, the vibrant energy of that time when ideas flowed, and the soft soulfulness that I had encountered in my days of retreat.
These associations sing to me whenever I gaze at the paintings on my wall, affirming me. It’s incredible to become part of the creation of something you absolutely love.
What we took home: I came home brimming with new ideas for my enterprise. And when I gaze at my diptych on the wall, a bundle of positive soulful feelings wells up in me every time. I have an ever-present totem of my creativity, and an anchor to my most inspired, self-compassionate state.
Would we go back: Yes. Both for the experience of the retreat, and for the joy of another painting. I’d like to save up and get a really large canvas next time.
People watch: You (and your companion if you wish) are the only people at ArtStay at any one time.
Food watch: ArtStay is largely self-catered, however you arrive to a kitchen stocked with Waiheke Island’s healthy epicurean treats. There’s delicious herb spread (about twenty organic herbs whizzed in local olive oil), fresh eggs, yoghurt, local subtropical fruit. There’s a bunch of freshly picked teas in the kitchen, or you can take a walk with the grower of Waiheke Plant Medicine through their herb garden outside your door, to find the teas which are just right for you. Gabriella delivers an invigorating and delicious green juice each morning – variations around apple, lemon, parsley, kale, rocket and cucumber.
Waiheke is famous for its good cafes, restaurants, vineyards, gelateria and bakeries, so self catering is a delight. On the electric bike, the closest shops, cafes and vineyards are ten minutes’ ride away. Alternatively, it’s possible to arrange in advance for an incredible herbalist and ayurvedic cook to prepare specifically the nourishment or cleanse that you need – she’ll teach you a whole new way to cook for yourself too.
What’s queenly: Becoming part of an intuitive artist’s process: You are supported to live in graceful simplicity, connecting equally with nature and your own nature. Guided discussions in the studio lead you to express your essence in a way that it is masterfully mirrored back in abstract form. You co-created a painting that forever touches your heart.
What’s lowly: We came mostly for the retreat and commissioning experience. But we love our painting with an unexpected fervour, and wish that we had commissioned a much larger canvas.
Insider tip: The weather is most settled and spectacular through February and March. January is a busy month, with visitors from all over the world holidaying on Waiheke island.
Price with a companion: You are welcome to bring a companion – it doesn’t alter the price.
Price going solo: From £1375 (US$2000) for three nights and four days, including the creation and shipping of an original oil painting. Prices increase as the size of canvas grows – larger canvasses raise the price to £4100.
Value for Money: The resulting artwork captures and reflects an experience of you at your harmonious best – and that’s priceless.
Reviewed by Rosie Walford
© Queen of Retreats