Sculpture is arguably more present in people’s day-to-day lives than many art forms. Frequently found in public places, it transforms our surroundings and enriches the community. At times it polarises the public, challenging society and creating controversy. This collection celebrates distinguished New Zealand sculptors, both nationally and internationally recognised: including Paul Dibble, Chris Booth, Greer Twiss, Neil Dawson and the legendary Len Lye. The controversial ‘Virgin in a Condom’ also features (in the first episode of Backch@t).
This documentary, made seven years after the death of legendary filmmaker and kinetic artist Len Lye, tells Lye's story: from being a young boy staring at the sun, to travels around the Pacific and life in New York. It includes excerpts from many of his films, and interviews with second wife Ann and biographer Roger Horrocks. Len Lye himself is often heard, outlining his ideas of the ‘old brain’ and how Māori and Aboriginal art influenced his work. The grandeur of his ideas are only matched by their scale, with steel sculptures designed to be "at least 20 foot high".
Pacific Monarch by New Zealand sculptor Paul Dibble was installed in front of the Manawatu Art Gallery, Palmerston North, in 1995. This film documents the production of this large scale bronze sculpture, and in doing so reveals something of its maker. Dibble's knowledge and skill in manipulating the process of bronze casting to produce his delicately balanced sculptures is evident - the casting, the welding together of all the parts, and the assembling of a team of sympathetic experts.
Sculptor (and Arts Foundation Icon) Greer Twiss is profiled in this episode of the early 80s series about notable artists, made for TVNZ. Twiss talks about his career and significant works, including the much loved Karangahape Rocks: an early, large scale bronze made at the limits of his ability at the time which twice caused him serious injury. His fascination with rendering functional everyday items — tools, wineglasses and rulers — as decorative sculptures is explored, along with his preference for working at home in the midst of his family life.
In this documentary, artist Helen Pollock discusses her sculpture Falls the Shadow. Using clay from the Coromandel and the Passchendaele (Netherlands) battlefield, she created a grove of arms reaching up against a background of trees stripped bare by gunfire in World War I. The work was inspired by her father, a wartime signaller. Pollock discusses her installation and the effect of combat on New Zealand troops in the war (846 Kiwis died in two hours during the 1917 battle of Passchendaele). The work is now on permanent display at Passchendaele Memorial Museum.
Sculptor Neil Dawson — who later created major public art works including The Chalice in Cathedral Square and Ferns in Wellington’s Civic Square — is profiled in this episode from an arts series made for TVNZ (in association with the QE2 Arts Council). Dawson is just as enthusiastic and engaged building a tree house for his son as he is preparing an exhibition of his work. These pieces are small and deceptively simple as they explore texture and optical illusion, but his larger ambitions are also piqued by a space about Auckland’s Victoria Street.
The capture and release of the French agents who bombed the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior was not the end of the affair. This film documents the circumstances of the crime, but is focused on efforts by Greenpeace, and artist Chris Booth to create a sense of emotional closure. Booth worked with the Ngati Kura people of Matauri Bay to create a sculpture marking the Warrior's last resting place. The film interweaves the back story of the bombing with sequences showing the efforts to finish the sculpture in time for commemorations.
Flip & Two Twisters is Shirley Horrocks' documentary about New Zealand-born artist Len Lye. Motion maestro Lye's international reputation rests on his work as a filmmaker and kinetic sculptor, and his lively contributions to the London and New York avant-garde. The documentary explores Lye's career and ideas, with the help of historical footage and excerpts from his films. It includes footage of Lye in typically exuberant form outlining his process, introduces many of his kinetic works, and documents how some of his most ambitious plans are being realised in New Zealand.
This National Film Unit production records the making of four large-scale sculptures for a 1971 international symposium to commemorate Auckland City’s centennial. Helen Escobedo (Mexico) nodded to the skyline’s masts and cranes with Signals in Parnell Rose Garden; Opened Stone by Hiroaki Ueda (Japan) was balanced near Auckland Art Gallery for 35 years; and American Fred Loopstra's Homage to Will still ploughs Victoria Park. A central city scrap metal work by Canadian Tom Burrows was removed in 1977, perhaps achieving his stated aim: to “disturb” its viewers!
The Lambeth Walk was a popular 'swing jazz' dance in London in 1939. It included a hand gesture with the Yiddish "Oi!". New Zealand-born filmmaker Len Lye edited together different versions of the music (including Django Reinhardt on guitar and Stephane Grapelli on violin), and combined them with a variety of abstract images painted and scratched directly onto film, without using a camera. The colourful, dynamic animation was made with public money — for the Ministry of Information in the United Kingdom — scandalising some government bureaucrats.
In episode two of The Big Art Trip hosts Douglas Lloyd-Jenkins and Nick Ward discover the art of crochet with sculptor Ani O’Neill and attend CAKE Collective’s roadside poster exhibition where they talk to photographer Deborah Smith. They also visit renowned sculptor Greer Twiss in his studio, talk with young multi-media artist Gerald Phillips about his music videos for band Betchadupa, drop in on painter and political activist Emily Karaka and head to Whangarei to see filmmaker Gregory King and the veteran star of his short film Junk, Rosalie Carey.
Backch@t was a magazine-style arts and culture show that appealed, from the opening acid-jazz theme tune, to a literate late-90s arts audience. Fronted by media personality Bill Ralston, these excerpts from the first episode come out guns blazing with a debate by panellists about Tania Kovats's controversial artwork 'Virgin in a Condom', the sculpture that caused national upset when it was exhibited at Te Papa in 1998. Managing to keep a panel discussion convivial rather than confrontational, Ralston handles the catholic debate with aplomb.
This Artsville documentary (full title: Under the Skin of the Auckland Life Drawing Group) visits a group of artists who have been gathering together for over 30 years to take part in a life drawing. Group members — sculptor Terry Stringer and painters Jan Nigro, John Andrew and Mary McIntyre — talk about the inspiration that the models provide and the journeys they take the images on in terms of their own art. The early history of art schools in Auckland is discussed and the nude models break their silence to discuss the enjoyment they get from participating.
Central North Island art is spotlighted in this episode of the road trip arts show. Douglas Lloyd Jenkins and Nick Ward discuss Len Lye's 'Wind Wand' and visit Michael Smither works in a Catholic church. Novelist Shonagh Koea reads in her favourite antique shop while photographer Sarah Sampson serves tea and discusses her fabric work and "chick art". Rangi and Julie Kipa reconcile traditional Maori process with modern art, performance artists Matt and Stark deconstruct the family sedan; and, in Wanganui, Ross Mitchell-Anyon is proud to call himself a potter.