The influence of large-scale abstract metal constructions by British artist Anthony Caro, together with American minimalism and its accompanying, often complex philosophy, was also powerful in the art schools. Canterbury fine arts graduate Neil Dawson became disenchanted, however, with this ‘self-indulgent and esoteric’ approach to art, which had ‘nothing to do with life’.1 His response was to make a series of small sculptures, ‘House alterations’ (1978), which became the blueprint for his subsequent career.
A sculpture survives
‘Chalice’ (2000), Neil Dawson’s hexagonal steel sculpture in Christchurch’s Cathedral Square, was erected to celebrate the new millennium. It deliberately inverted the neighbouring Anglican cathedral’s Gothic revival spire. While ‘Chalice’ stands unscathed, the spire fell in the 22 February 2011 earthquake.
Dawson’s sculpture has been described as three-dimensional drawing. Using media including wire mesh, cord and crumpled foil, he ‘draws’ architectural motifs, feathers and ripples of water. His 15-metre mixed media ‘Globe’ (1989) captured international attention when it was suspended over the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris in 1999.
Dawson’s visual elegance graphically contrasts with the work of the largely self-taught Don Driver. Prolific, inventive and eclectic, Driver responded to major overseas artists yet gave his sculpture a Kiwi inflection. His works from the 1970s onwards incorporated barrel lids, fertiliser sacks, pitchforks and fluffy nylon bathmats, creating powerful, beautiful and sometimes sinister effects, such as his assemblage ‘Ritual’ (1982).
Jeff Thomson’s sculpture also speaks a New Zealand vernacular. He inventively uses corrugated iron, which makes his work immediately recognisable and popular with a broad audience. His reconstructed (and street-legal) station wagon, ‘Holden HQ’ (1991), has been a central piece at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
The New Zealand environment figures prominently in the work of several leading sculptors. The themes and materials of Andrew Drummond’s sculpture moved from performance art in the late 1970s to carefully crafted works such as ‘Listening and viewing device’ (1994), set on a hilltop in the Wellington Botanic Garden. It comprises a copper cone suspended in a columned frame. The cone responds to the elements by magnifying sound and funnelling vision, while the frame lends the work a shrine-like quality.
Chris Booth is more actively conservationist in outlook. His sculpture consists of assemblages made from stones, boulders and wood, often set in their landscape of origin. It has won warm praise from Māori for its integrity and understanding of the land.