Spotlight: Madeline O’Donoghue Q+A


We did a Q+A with Madeline ODonoghue! Madeline is an artist from New Zealand now residing in Byron Bay. Even though her work speaks for itself, we gave her the podium to have some time to speak about her art and what she’s passionate about.

What’s your background?

I am originally from the North Island in New Zealand. I grew up spending a lot of time at the beach, swimming at outdoor pools and drawing – a lot. After finishing high school I went to art school in my hometown of Wellington and majored in painting for 4 years. I’ve since lived and worked overseas in London, New York, Los Angeles and Australia in and out of the creative industries.

My time in Los Angeles left a massive imprint on my creative direction as I was hugely inspired by the creative scene, the diverse culture and its rich history seeping into everything from film, design, architecture and nature. During my time in California I was lucky enough to take many big road trips with a disposable camera, get amongst nature in all the National Parks and generally live a more outdoor lifestyle with surfing and camping taking precedence. People often think of LA as a big city with big smog and big celebrities but I found LA to be much deeper than this and I guess this just found its way into my work.

During my time there, I also studied graphic design which really allowed me to make my work more cohesive and start to visually problem solve through illustration and design.

What does your work aim to say?

I hope my work is speaking to the life I am passionate about living and sharing with others.

It aims to elevate nature and act as an advocate for returning to a more simple way of life. To have less but share more authentic experiences in this thing we call life. Surfing has been my entry point into experiencing this more closely and has really put me in direct touch with the elements as you have to understand the wind, the tides, the moon and the sun and in doing so you are simply paying more attention to something a lot bigger than yourself.

With surf and skate culture I feel that there is a certain amount of freedom associated and even a sense of deep inner peace. They require you to be aware of yourself and your own small actions as well as your surroundings – to be conscious and unconscious at the same time which is something pretty special. They also provide a special sense of community through like-minded individuals coming together to connect over living a fulfilled, stoked life with limited damage to the planet or to others.

My work also focuses on empowering women, mainly through surfing and skating which are both often intimidating and dominated by males throughout history.

How does your work comment on current social or political issues?

As above I’m really passionate about women’s rights as well as caring for the planet. My work serves as a bit of a stomping ground for me to explore my thoughts around a lot of these issues.

I will often watch a documentary, have a conversation, watch a women surfing on a wave or see GrlSwirl teaching young girls to skate and a few days later my doodles or sketches will be filled with ideas around how I feel about these things. Sometimes it’s not intentional but if an issue has really stuck with me it seems to take over my work and take on a life of it’s own. I recently went to the Patagonia screening of Artifishal here in Byron and for days or maybe even weeks afterwards I couldn’t stop drawing salmon farms.

My work is filled with my own ideas and values and if an issue has stuck with me it’ll probably show up in my work in some way or another at some point.


How do you navigate the art world?

I wouldn’t say I navigate the art world at all.

I really enjoy drawing and getting down visual information that’s swirling around in my head and if people like it or respond to it, that’s great. I draw because it’s part of who I am and what I do, and since starting to make work more actively everything has happened pretty organically. I like working with good people and so far I’ve been lucky to work with some really great people doing some good work and that’s all that matters to me right now.

Also, after graduating from art school I pretty quickly learnt that the “art world” wasn’t really my bag. Much like surfing it’s pretty intimidating and also has a rich history of being a male dominated “industry” –  an industry I’ll probably never feel fully comfortable in or understand. It’s too layered; the art market, the galleries and institutions, and the concept of the “art star”. I do love art, I have loads of art books and I love people who make art but since discovering design I feel like this is an art that’s living and breathing in real space and time. A mural on a subway wall, a drawing on the bottom of a skateboard, a band tee-shirt, a record cover, a logo – these are all things that are worn, used, picked up, are ageing with us and existing in the visual world around us. This is what interests me.

As a woman in a surf Industry full of men, how do you see it changing for women, or what could we do to change it?

I think that industry for women on a whole is already on the rise. We are seeing more women out in the water and there’s much more support and community in women supporting each other to get out together and get amongst it. We are seeing companies and communities such as Salt Gypsy, The Seea, La Bamba, Atmosea, Sea Together, Aoka Surf Studio, WaterPeople Podcast really embracing women in surfing and elevating all the different styles, looks and variety that’s out there. I believe they are making a concerted effort to connect females through shared experience rather than diluting women to simply how they look in or out of the water. Women surf differently to men and to be liberated to surf like a woman and not simply have to copy or mimic a man is encouraging and inspiring for every female.

So I believe we just need more of this – a larger variety of women appearing in mainstream surf media, less sexualised images of women in surfing and a hell of a lot more celebrations of the style, grace and diversity that’s happening in women’s surfing right now.

 I think we are now seeing more women surfing and therefore we’re seeing more women making creative work about their experience of surfing. The more freedom we have to be ourselves out in the water, the more freedom we have to create work that’s authentic out of the water. It’s about liberation – liberate and you’ll see an enormous amount of freedom of expression come to the surface.

Your art has a very 70s style, where do you draw inspiration for your work?

Growing up in New Zealand we are surrounded by some pretty wicked surf breaks and beaches that have a very 70’s vibe at times. Although they didn’t surf, both my parents are from surf towns – one on the East Coast and the other on the West so I grew up looking at photos of them in their sun-soaked seventies dresses, afros and old school cars. They both love the sea and made sure my sisters and I grew up with plenty of salt-water holidays that were usually in retro-style batches or motels that were simple, pared back and filed with objects from a time gone by. I also love watching 1970’s films, so I guess I like to look back to look forward.

To check out some more of Madeline’s work, click the link for her website, , or her instagram @madelineodonoghue_creative.

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