Anthony Stones was born in 1934 in Glossop, near Manchester. After completing a course at Manchester's School of Art, he came to New Zealand with his parents as an 18-year-old.
In 1963 Stones began in television at Auckland station AKTV-2, back when state TV was run on a regional basis (though with some shared content). As Auckland's Head of Design, there was no lack of musical and entertainment shows for him to get his teeth into. That decade, he designed the sets for music shows On the Beat Side and In the Groove. The variety style of the later required a wide array of sets and backgrounds.
Stones' time in television would span two decades, and see him rising from set design to managing an expanding team of creatives. Aside from further musical ventures — including the pop art stylings of C’mon, and the country and western backdrops of this 1975 Sing special, he designed sets for a wide range of drama and current affairs: from stylish 60s thriller The Alpha Plan (where Pakatoa Island hosts a global Cold War conspiracy) to the minimalist interview set-up for Gordon Dryden’s self-titled current affairs show.
Tom McWilliams, who worked with Stones as a graphic artist at AKTV-2, remembers his boss as an inventive, stylish and "brilliantly practical" designer. "He had a sculptor's feeling for space and scale. He brought to the small screen a contemporary freshness."
Stones' most long-lasting television contribution is arguably his work on music show C'Mon, which spawned tours and records following its debut in 1967. Alongside designing the distinctive ramped set, Stones was also involved in the look of the costumes. Interviewed in The Listener at the time, he called the show "fun for a designer, as you can indulge yourself." Reflecting some of the art that had "grown up around pop music", C'Mon's look featured "a mixture of op art and art nouveau".
Stones played a key part in C'Mon's distinctive look and pace. His op art designs were projected onto the back wall of the Auckland studio,which enabled the set to be transforming repeatedly during each half-hour show, which was recorded live. Drawn on paper, the designs were photographed and turned into glass plates, then inserted into a slide projector.
Auckland Star reviewer Barry Shaw namechecked Stones' contributions. "To AKTV-2’s Anthony Stones must go a 1967 NZBC Emmy for his best set ever, a pop-art background that was simplicity itself but exactly right. Those whirls and squares, the chequered costumes, the crocheted gear of the go-go motion girls showed, too, a keen appreciation of visual effect, which was heightened by effective lighting."
A decade later, Stones recreated London's theatre scene, as designer of telemovie Opening Night. London taxis and a double decker bus helped sell the illusion, although the majority of the telemovie was shot indoors, at the Whanganui Opera House. The quartet of mysteries were part of a series of successful Ngaio Marsh Theatre dramas, which debuted on the recently created second TV channel.
From 1978 to 1983, Stones was TV2's Head of Design. The role was more managerial than hands-on. Memorable pieces of design created under his watch were the iconic Goodnight Kiwi (which closed each day's broadcasting), and the alien lair beneath Rangitoto for classic sci-fi drama Under the Mountain.
Under the Mountain designer Rob Gillies counts himself lucky to have had a boss who was empathetic to the creatives working for him. "He organised after-work life drawing sessions and encouraged the gathering of broad cultural influences. As a young designer you always knew that if you got into hot water Tony had your back, in what was a bureaucratic system."
Off screen Stones was variously a painter, editor, author and teacher — but primarily a sculptor (he studied under artist John Kavanagh in the 60s). Well-known public sculptures include the statue of Prime Minister Peter Fraser, leaning into the wind outside Old Government Buildings in Wellington; the monument to Jean Batten at Auckland Airport; and Auckland’s High Street tribute to Lord Freyberg. Alongside public figures his subjects included a roll call of Kiwi cultural icons (including Allen Curnow, Janet Frame, Colin McCahon and Katherine Mansfield).
Stones received little contemporary recognition for his sculpture in New Zealand. Keith Ovenden, writing for Pundit website in 2008, compared Stones to Austrian architect Ernst Plischke: both were émigrés who gained greater attention offshore than in their adopted New Zealand home.
In 1983, aged 49, Stones returned to the United Kingdom. Ovenden argued that "Stones needed a bigger stage and a more receptive public than we could offer him, and when he returned to England in 1983 he chose to settle in Oxford, where the university might offer a portrait sculptor a reasonable stab at earning a living, as well as build a reputation for craftsmanship and insight".
Stones crafted a notable career as a portrait sculptor (and sometime children’s book author and illustrator). His subjects included actor Ben Kingsley (for Stratford-upon-Avon's Theatre Museum), young Shakespeare, Seamus Heaney, plus commissions for the National Gallery of Ireland and many Oxford colleges.
Ovenden argued that Stones had "become renowned as a master of large works in which proportion and scale are successfully married to the myriad details of physiognomy, anatomy, costume and personality". From 1999 to 2004, he was president of the British Society of Portrait Sculptors.
Stones maintained links with New Zealand, where his ongoing sculpture commissions included a portrait of Captain Cook in Gisborne, pioneer winemakers in Henderson, and Abel Tasman and early settlers in Nelson.
From the early 2000s Stones and his wife Lily Feng spent increasing time in China, where he was a visiting professor at Nanjing and Qinghua Universities. For the Beijing Olympics he completed a series of sculptures (The Running Man) prominently located en route to the Bird's Nest Stadium. He was exploring new forms of art-making into the second decade of the 21st Century. In 2011 a sculpture garden was named in his honour at Shenyang University, where he was Dean of the Anthony Stones International Sculpture Academy.
Anthony Stones died in China in September 2016. He was 82.
Profile updated on 8 June 2022
Photograph of Anthony Stones (detail) by Dave Roberts: 'Anthony Stones with his marquette of General Lord Freyburg' taken 31 December 2001
Keith Ovenden, 'Restless, energetic, and still learning' Pundit website. Loaded 28 November 2008. Accessed 8 June 2022
Unknown writer, 'Anthony Stones, creator of iconic New Zealand statues, dies' Stuff website. Loaded 30 September 2016. Accessed 8 June 2022
Unknown writer, Article about C'Mon, The Listener, 1 May 1967