19 May 2015

Auckland sculpture: Birds and Boats

New Zealand is famous for its birds. Not only is it known by ornithologists as the seabird capital of the world, it is also home to many forest birds that are unique to this island nation because of its lengthy period of isolation from the world’s other continental land masses.

Being an island nation, New Zealand is also a boatie’s paradise. Before aeroplanes, shipping was the only means of connection with the rest of the world and, indeed, in the early days of the colony, the only method of transport around the country. These days, shipping remains an important industry, and pleasure boating has become one of our favourite pastimes.

It should come as no surprise, then, that both birds and boats provide important inspiration for New Zealand artists and craftspeople and, as I’ve walked the streets of its biggest city, Auckland, I’ve discovered several magnificent examples of this inspiration. 

Neil Dawson, Birds and Boats, 2013   
Appropriately titled, Birds and Boats, Neil Dawson’s circular sculpture is suspended from a marble wall in the foyer of the ANZ Tower in lower Albert Street, in central city Auckland. My photos give no indication of size but, at 3100mm x 3100mm x 600mm and made of painted steel, it’s a substantial piece and has presence. If you look closely, you can see that the sculpture is made of small origami-like sailboats and its curved shapes are reminiscent of ocean waves.

Greer Twiss, Graftings, 2004 
These are just three of the ten bronze pieces that make up Greer Twiss’s work, Graftings. They fit perfectly into their surroundings in the lush fernery behind the massive glasshouses of the Wintergardens in Auckland Domain. At first glance, they look like real birds, easily recognisable to New Zealanders by their characteristic silhouettes and, for the benefit of overseas visitors, they come with tags inscribed with their common, Latin and Maori names.

Fred Graham, Kaitiaki, 2004
Fred Graham’s massive artwork (above) is also to be found in Auckland Domain, perched shoulder to shoulder with the trees planted on the hillside behind the museum. Although made of steel plate and presumably weighing a ton, its graceful fluid lines make it look as if this gigantic hawk really could fly. The artist notes that birds ‘were the original Tangata Whenua of Aotearoa, and the hawk has figured prominently in the oral traditions of Ngati Whatua and Tainui’. Whether intentional or coincidental, from a certain angle the hawk looks like its about to attack Auckland’s iconic Sky Tower

Brett Graham, Manu Tawhiowhio, 1996
Fred Graham’s son is also a hugely talented sculptor, as witnessed by this large abstract bird (right) that sits outside a building at Auckland University of Technology. Seven metres high and made of copper, wood and river stones, this bird speaks to the way ancient seafarers used migrating birds to guide them to foreign lands. Brett Graham’s skill lies in his ability to use simple forms and natural materials to create extremely powerful works of art.  

Paul Dibble, Waiting for Godot, 2013
The statue at the corner of Wellesley and Kitchener Streets appears continually to change. At first, Paul Dibble’s sculpture of a kereru (native wood pigeon), Woodpigeon on a Circle, was placed in this spot by the folks from the Gow Langsford Gallery to celebrate an exhibition by the artist in 2010. Later, it morphed into Waiting for Godot, (below left) a 2013 bronze of a kereru and an extinct huia. The first sculpture was almost 2.5 metres tall, the second one almost 3.7 metres high. Now both have disappeared. I guess we’ll have to wait for the next Paul Dibble exhibition at the Gow Langsford to see what bird will appear next.  

Paul Dibble, Voyager, 2002
The Voyager (above right) is another stunning piece by master sculptor Paul Dibble. Made of cast patinated bronze in November 2002, this piece sits outside Viaduct Point, at 125 Customs Street West in the central city. Its plaque reads ‘The Voyager acknowledges New Zealand’s long and on-going association with the sea. It stands at a site where fish were unloaded from trawlers for city processing.’

Charlotte Fisher, Arc, 2004
We’ve headed back to Auckland Domain again to check out CharlotteFisher’s contribution to our birds and boats theme. Sitting atop a tall column of granite, its wide bronze arc, a shape synonymous with boats, holds seven vertical shapes – seamen, perhaps? Or immigrants? It is an appropriate symbol for the voyages made by early explorers and settlers immigrating to these fertile shores.

Louise Purvis, Promise Boat, 2005
A short walk down the Centennial Walkway from Fisher’s artwork is Louise Purvis’s bardiglio marble and basalt piece, Promise Boat.  Stone and metal are this sculptor’s preferred materials and she manipulates them into delicate shapes that belie their weight and density. Here, Purvis acknowledges and celebrates the fact that ‘Images of boats are powerful signifiers for island nations, especially for Aotearoa New Zealand, where the land was discovered and rediscovered by many different navigators’.  

Artist unknown, Teddy Bear and Boat
Let’s finish on a whimsical note. This charming piece sits outside the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron’s offices at Westhaven Marina, and was commissioned by the family of Lawrence D. Nathan (1919-1987) to recognise his contribution as a successful businessman, a civic leader, a generous philanthropist and a passionate sailor. As a piece on the Distinctly Devonport website explains, Nathan ‘owned three classic yachts, Kotere, Iorangi and … Kahurangi (A30) which he owned for over thirty years and eventually sailed around the world’, hence the model boat with A30 on its sail. Nathan also had ‘a bit of a thing for teddy bears’, apparently. It’s a fun piece that kids young and old can enjoy and a delightful way to commemorate one Aucklander’s love of boats and the sea.

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