Twelve years of stone carving have brought me through my apprenticeship to a point where I begin to understand the balance between concept, material and process. The learning of an ancient and secret craft amazes and excites me.
To know that I am connected to that person who first flaked a blade from stone, who drilled a hole through stone, who incised a line on a stone; to understand the genealogy: that is the stone line.
To realise the process of metamorphosis in carving a stone by natural ways and by magical forces; to see the process of metamorphism whereby base rocks and minerals are transformed into stones of great beauty; to understand the relief of the land eroded by the elements: that is the stone line.
My early work was almost entirely in nephrite jade. The New Zealand jade fields yield material equal in quality to any other source in the world. I was lucky to accumulate a wide variety of high quality jades before the proliferation of the greenstone souvenir in the 1980's saw large quantities of jades from the very best alluvial sources reduced to crude and meaningless trinkets.
The continued exploitation of New Zealand's most special and unique resource horrified me and my introduction in 1980 to metasomatised argillite, the tools material of the Maori Pakohe, initiated a new awareness in my work. Argillites, together with metasomatised basalt and greywacke, jasper and granite became my main working stones, and as I began to appreciate their inherent beauty so jade was raised higher in my esteem making it most rare and precious in its intractable green beauty.
It still is and always will be spiritually demanding for me to work jade. Most of the uncut stones that I have collected are far too unique for me to ever consider carving. They are the true forms, the true surfaces to which I aspire.
The use of metal, especially copper, and argillite began in 1981 in a response to a vaguely remembered discovery as a child of a free and inexhaustible supply of copper from plumbing offcuts. This memory, together with the realisation that argillite, (serpentine) and copper occur naturally together led me to recombine these elements by constructions in the knowledge that the ageing of the copper and the stone would finally weld them back together in an artefact.
Inclusions of glass in the stones are a result of my understanding of then processes of sawing and drilling. To cut a stone in half, into a slice or a block; to render a stone into some precise predetermined form is a powerful force of division, so that these pieces are my attempts to recombine that which has been divided, the transparent parting of the solid, seeing into the heart intact.
My endeavours to control the powerful modern tools available has led to a refinement and minimalisation in my work, the simplicity of the carvings belieing the processes involved, bringing into balance the elements of concept, material and process.These carvings are a small part of the stone lines that go back and forwards from us, leaving us always now. Towards a new millennia the stone lines come and go.
To those people who have brought my carvings, supported me as a craftsperson in the fragile economy of New Zealand; to the staff of the National Museum of New Zealand and the Auckland Institute and Museum for bringing together these carvings for exhibition; to the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council for their financial support; to the people who have loaned their carvings for this exhibitions; to Ann Robinson; my gratitude.
On Making Amends............................
A few years ago on a trip to collect stones for my exhibition Signs of the Comet (Dowse Art Museum 1983) I climbed down the steep access to the beach, jumping the last few feet to land on a huge shoal of pebbles wet with sea spray. Looking down at the stones around my feet I saw, lying across one stone, a thin, flat copper plate. This material, its colour and shape, the marks and the makers intention gave the object a wonderful incongruity and at the same time a strong connection to my work and the use of copper saws and drills to work to stone.
On the trip last winter to select the stones for this exhibition, we walked to the other end of the beach, making cairns of possible stones judged by their size, shape, colour and integrity. Near the end of the beach on the point of turning back I was amazed to find a stone, perfect in all ways, with a carefully applied adhesive bandage, worn and gritty with sand, lying amongst the other stones.
I took this as a sign to mean that even with a stone as base as greywacke, the spirit in the stone is still very much intact and a cut, cracked or worked stone is in need of repair and healing to restore its integrity. I see these works as reparation in some small way and I hope that the integrity of the finished pieces will make amends for the damages inflicted.
The granite used in this exhibition is predominately African and I have obtained it from monumental masons in Auckland. Again I hope that the finished works will reflect the prior histories of the stones and by making an analogy between the material and the human spiritual condition act as atonement.
This is my way of making amends.
The use of granite gave me access to larger, homogenous and fault-free blocks of stone which, together with a new technology of diamond-faced grindstones, and a revision of my whole working method, resulted in the first works that were exhibited in Making Ends Meet (Fingers, 1992).
There is an essential and radical destruction required to make these works, as there is in most aspects of human endeavor. This made me think of the ways, that personally and collectively, we take responsibility for our actions. I questioned my attempts to restore integrity. Are they sufficient to make amends for all the deconstruction inherent in these constructions?
I offer these stones as my reparation.
I got my first chemistry set when I was twelve. I watched, fascinated as copper wire dissolved in nitric acid and smelt the pungent brown fumes as a vigorous effervescence spread an intense blue colouration through the solution. Taste and smell were part of a chemist's tools of trade. I learnt to detect many chemicals this way. Colour was vital. The forms of crystals. The exotic small of the laboratory. My chemicals in their jars lined up on the shelves I built. Many of these jars are still in my lab. Making gunpowder. Exploding hydrogen balloons. The aromatic compounds. Using beetroot juice as an indicator of acidity. Oxalic acid from rhubarb. Distilling alcohol fractions. Laundry and garden chemicals in crude and lumpy forms. Grinding pastes in a mortar and pestle. Fuming acids. Tarry mixtures stuck on test-tubes. A dense yellow-green gas. Grinding cinnabar from Puhipuhi. Extracting mercury. Glistening spheres on a charcoal block. Refining the crust of the earth. The pure elements.
The metals used in the Badges are copper, silver, nickel and brass (an alloy of copper and zinc). The shaped metal sections were soldered together with silver solder and then forged and ground to their final form. After attachments of the findings the badges were individually patinated with a variety of chemicals under different conditions. When all reactions had ceased, the surfaces were allowed to dry completely before being lacquered to seal them against further reaction. I expect some of the patinae will continue to change slightly, and I am interested in following such changes. The patinae are quite robust, but should not be exposed to water, heat or abrasion. Under normal conditions of wear they should last for many years, and should hopefully only get better.
On Cross Country............................
The exhibition will be comprised of new works, and the theme of the exhibition will be the land divided and united. This follows on from the themes of "MAKING AMENDS" that considered the way we interact with the land materially and spiritually. By using my materials (which are themselves part of the land) as analogies for the way we regard the land, I can explore aspects of myth, lore, preconception and illusion. Hopefully I can compare the idealised 'land' with the reality. The key words for the exhibition at present are
CROSS, COUNTRY, SECTION, DIVIDE, REPAIR, CONFORM.
Cross Country, Cross-section, Dissection, Division, Cross, A Cross Country, A country divided. The cardinal points, West to East, North to South, Travelling, Souvenir, Longing, Memory, Nostalgia, Remembrance. Destruction, Deconstruction, Reconstruction, Restoration, Reparation. Threads, the red thread runs between the black and the white. Flags, flag stones, prayers, prayer stones. Flags of the nations, a black and white flag with red border stones hold down the corners. Corner stone - fills the corner of the gallery. Glass Beads, purchase of land. Exchange.
Stones themselves have curative properties. Stones contain all the materials of life. Continuously eroding to provide the raw materials of living organisms.
In Making Amends I tried to create works that repaid a debt that I personally, and each of us individually must address if we are to be able to live together and not tear society apart. The premise that we are all individually responsible for our actions. By using stones as an analogy for the human condition.
In Cross Country I would like to make works and present them in a way that communicates my concerns at the way we are dividing the land and society.
1. Pure state.
With larger works I can let the peripherals go, and not attempt to contain the subject totally. The edges still show signs of the history of the materials, quarry marks, shipping instructions. Damage. The marks of time.
In practice my desire is to make "perfect" works, without flaws, faults, scratches, blemishes and other undesired imperfections introduced as part of my endeavor. As I am pushing some technical limitations of the materials and processes, this is very difficult. In fact it is almost impossible and at some point if I am to regard the work as finished (and showable) then I must accept that the work has flaws. So in this exhibition there are works which are already cracked, broken, flawed. For me they suggest the whole, the complete and perfect form from which they derived, and in that is the hope of reunion. And the terrible sadness of loss.
With the black and white works I am attempting to bring together the opposites, the incongruous, so that in their conformation the two become one, while still retaining their separate integrity. The oneness of duality. Two into one. The confluence of the incongruous.
The raw conjunction of black granite and white marble. The granite so vast and dense, intractable, impenetrable, and the marble so soft and vulnerable, like flesh, like light. In some the top half is black and the lower white, and vice versa. The horizons are long, unrelenting, but as the series progresses the horizon is relieved by an interaction between the black and white. There are signs (sine) and signals, pulses, (decaying) oscillations, vibrations, inclusions, extrusions, fossil records, frozen moments, re-memory.
They are like drawings, the scale gives them the presence of billboards, hoardings, they contain the pulse of life forces. They are virtual realities, like peeking into a peep show and seeing the intense scale of the miniature scene so strong that one becomes altered, losing a frame of reference at the moment one looks through the tiny hole into the other universe.
There is an element of souvenir in these slices. A response to our desire to have a slice of the action. To have concrete evidence of our journey.
These slices of the land are revelations of how intimately the environment meshes. How seemless are the interrelationships of earth and sky, land and sea, heaven and earth, black and white? The convergence of the two into one.
The cracked off ends shows that not all is included here, that this is not all there is. In the act of preserving, of measuring, of extracting the specimen it has been perturbed. Is the information we have intelligible? What can we make of it? Or are we forever in the dark through not having received enough of the signal.
I set out many years ago to make indelible marks on stones. All of my exhibitions have to some extent investigated a new way of making these marks. In Cross Country these marks are shown in close-up, enlarged as if by a microscope or telescope. The cross sections and dissections lay open the body of the earth, the sky above the earth below and the interaction of the two which is the realm of human. Here are our symbols, and emblems, tokens and cardinal points fossilized, embedded, laid down, sedimented, revealed and illuminated.
On Lie of the Land..........................
The exhibition LIE OF THE LAND will be comprised of 8-12 stone sculptures of approximately human proportions. In this exhibition of stone sculpture I want to explore how real and imaginary concepts of "the land" have become embedded into our culture and have taken on the power of icons, influencing our behaviour, our identity, and the very way that we present ourselves to the world. In New Zealand issues such as cultural identity, material and spiritual sovereignty are of crucial importance to the future of our society, and my sculptures will present some visual responses to these matters.
I want to use this exhibition to consider and examine visual metaphors for conformity, nationalism, sovereignty, and patriotism, and the way that these are generated and instilled in the population. How is the fiction of a stable national identity is created? The fragmentation of society is requiring a far deeper understanding of national identity and allegiance than the concept of the nation-state can accommodate.
I am interested in the image of "the land" in New Zealand culture. How is it expressed through art? How is it expressed in sport? In war? We acknowledge the land as material and spiritual body. In what ways are our images and concepts of "the land" false? Is the land truly a sacrament. A taonga. Or is it a sacrifice? Can we expect all New Zealanders to have this regard? Does the land truly nurture us, or is that an outmoded myth.
Land as symbol
I would like to examine the meanings of flag. National Identity. Allegiance to the crown. Marching under the flag, the banner. Burning and walking on the flag. The (false) nationalistic ideologies of motherland, fatherland, facism, patriotism.
The sculptures in LIE OF THE LAND will be a continuation of the work that I have been making since 1991. First shown in MAKING AMENDS, ON FORM and CROSS COUNTRY these sculptures in granite and marble have explored through material and process concepts such as:
SECTION, DIVIDE, REPAIR, CONFORM.
Cross Country, Cross-section, Dissection, Division, Cross, The cardinal points, West to East, North to South, Travelling, Souvenir, Longing, Memory, Destruction, Deconstruction, Reconstruction, Restoration, Reparation. Threads, the red thread runs between the black and the white. Flags, flag stones, prayers, prayer stones.
The exhibition CROSS COUNTRY is comprised of new works on the theme of the land divided and reunited. This follows on from the concepts of MAKING AMENDS that considered the way we interact with the land materially and spiritually. By using my materials (which are themselves part of the land) as analogies for the land, I can explore aspects of myth, lore, preconception and delusion. I can compare the idealised 'land' with the reality.
With the black and white works of CROSS COUNTRY I am attempting to bring together the opposites, the incongruous, so that in their conformation the two become one, while still retaining their separate integrity. The oneness of duality. Two into one. The confluence of the incongruous. The solutions are almost entirely analogue responses arising out of the unique set of parameters that I set myself as a brief for the exhibition. However, the final three works in the series have suddenly produced a digital response in strong contrast to the analogy representations and this is clearly the direction that LIE OF THE LAND will take. In LIE OF THE LAND the seamless convergence and absolute conformation are peturbed and the become a broken and angry confrontation.
Lie (la=), n.2 Also 7 lye. [f. lie v.1]
Conform(v): fit or be suitable; comply with rules or general customs.
The origins of these badges are to be found in my travel drawings and writing from the early 1980's. I wanted to realise the drawings as objects but at that time my predominant working material was stone which presented various material and technical restrictions. And as I was deriving much of my inspiration for form and surface from alluvial jade stones, rounded and smoothed by the river, I consequently had difficulty with the rectangular format of the drawings. In an early attempt around 1983, I tried making "slides of my work". They had the format of 35mm transparencies, with the slide 'mount' made from copper and the 'film' made from a thin section of material: stone, glass, shell and bone. These did not develop far, and were never exhibited. I continued to record journeys, with drawings and photographs. I looked for ways to record the physical and spiritual states of travel: planning, packing, departure, new terrain, uncertain ways, strange lands, weird maps, nostalgia, remembrance, return.
It was not until 1993 that I achieved a satisfactory synthesis of concept and material. In that year, I travelled to the most southerly point of the South Island, Slope Point, and to the most northerly point of the North Island, Surville Cliffs. On my return from these two poles, I resolved to convey my ideas in the format of badges. At first I thought that they would utilise thin sections of stone, secured to and protected by a metal backing that carried the findings. I prepared the stone sections, miniature constructions of some detail. Then when the backing had been made from copper, it became obvious that various factors such as weight were going to make them awkward as badges. I realised that the copper backs were themselves badges, and the idea developed to use combinations of two different metals to create a design, which was then further enhanced by patination of the metal surfaces. The results were first exhibited in LIGHT RELIEF at Fingers (1994), and then in BADGE at Fluxus (1995).
This latest exhibition continues to record journeys through the land. It identifies my interests in geomorphology, the study of landscape, which has its roots in geology and geography. And it begins to examine the geometric insignia of flags, the badges of identity which nationalise people and place. These badges, which are amongst my smallest works were made this year concurrently with the large granite and marble sculptures of my exhibition CROSS COUNTRY that is currently travelling around the East Cape to show in Gisborne. To work on such extremes of size has been important in the development of both groups.
The metals used in the badges are copper, silver, and brass (an alloy of copper and zinc). The shaped metal sections were soldered together with silver solder and then forged and ground to their final form. After attachments of the findings the badges were individually patinated with a variety of chemicals under different conditions. When all reactions had ceased, the surfaces were allowed to dry completely before being lacquered to seal them against further reaction. I expect some of the patinae will continue to change slightly, and I am interested in following such changes. The patinae are quite robust, but should not be exposed to water, heat or abrasion. Under normal conditions of wear they should last for many years, and should hopefully only get better.
from Latin: small stone used in reckoning on abacus
This exhibition of 100 altered stones started 20 years ago when I found a small stone in the excavated gravel of a new driveway to my Ponsonby workshop. Cleaned of its tarry adhesions this egg-sized stone polished to a dark-grey surface revealing a dense matrix of broken and fused fragments. I carved a simple symbol on the surface and carried the stone in my pocket for some time before I learnt that it was greywacke. This subtle and beautiful stone from the basement of New Zealand is commonly used in a crushed form as construction and roading gravel. Greywacke is common to most areas of New Zealand. It is to be found in most rivers and streams. It was the material for the wondrous patu onewa which remain some of the finest stone artefacts from the Maori world.
I did not realise then that this stone would change my world. Part of the attraction was it's widespread occurrence. Prospecting for it was not difficult; it could be found in subtly changing colours and forms in many rivers. I was intrigued by its physical properties. It was perfect for some of the work I wanted to make (for which jade was not suitable). At its best it was dense, hard, fine-grained, fault-free, and speckled with subtle hues from grey and green.
Although I sourced the stone from all over New Zealand, my primary source was the Hauraki Gulf. These ancient beds were laid down millions of years ago in the developing Tasman Trench as New Zealand and Australia separated in the breakup of Gondwanaland. The fine silts and sands deposited in the trench originated from the erosion of granite mountains on the great southern continent. Deep sedimentary layers formed in the trench, and were buried to depths of 5-10 kilometres. The intense pressure and heat at that depth welded the grains together and when these beds where uplifted in the formation of New Zealand, the broken rock was again eroded and smooth rounded greywacke pebbles were formed by the Waikato River and the sea currents of the Hauraki Gulf.
Often these pebbles came to me from other people. They were not always greywacke, some being argillite, quartz or basalt. These stones often came together with a hand-drawn map showing where they had been found. The rough sketches, symbols and calligraphy and vigorous marks all point cryptically to a certain place. Finding these places again always required certain local knowledge and these directions (or lack of them) are a strong part of the stone stories. "...just go down past the old quarry, keep to the left and go past the row of pines and take the road around the back of the estuary and you can't miss it!"
It was exciting to be starting with something so base as road metal, and my primary objective was to work the stone so its aesthetic qualities would make it precious. A transmutation of the base to the precious, a metamorphosis.
I also wanted to label these natural pebbles, to make them artefacts, so they became part of the human environment. Rather than mark the stones superficially with traditional relief or intaglio carving, I began to investigate ways to make indelible marks in the stones. These inlays were made from a variety of other stones, including jade, jasper, marble, lapis lazuli, and chrysoprase. Later these inlays became stone, glass and metal rivets, fully penetrating the stone. As the language developed, other symbols emerged. Copper plates made signs of connectivity, rivets made red, green, white, and black eyes. The stones became strange devices, accumulators of energy, storage batteries, keys to strange doors. They were intriguing parts of the human world, but from time past or time future?
Numbers were often present. The stones with their 'eyes' became factors in some calculation, or counters in some board game, tallies, ways of measuring the passing days; memory devices. Together with fingers, small stones were the beginning of our counting systems. They led to the concept of numbers, and to the development of mathematics. And ultimately to the description of our world and our understanding of the universe.