“Ahakoa he kohatu koe, he taonga tino ataahua.”
Our ‘Jade & Hard-Stone Carving Course’ aims not only to teach us to carve stone but also to appreciate the wonderful medium that hard stone is. Obviously for us, jade is the ‘ultimate’ stone, but ours is not the only art form that utilises stone and to enable us to better accept this premise our tutor took us to view the the stone sculpture symposium being held near Lake Kaniereoutside Hokitika. It would be sufficient for some to simply visit the ‘open day’, the exhibition where all of the finished pieces are displayed for viewing. but this was not for us. Instead we visited first as the artists were just getting started on their creations, when they were commencing ‘stock removal’, when all of the big, grunty tools were doing their work- drills, saws, chisels, hammers & such and things were very noisy and dusty!!! We returned a week later to see the works much nearer completion and in finishing stages.
One might get a sense of what might be intended by the artist, but this isn’t always the case especially when any initial rough drawing of design made on the block has already been removed with first cuts. The artists were great with us, interrupting their work to help us understand something of what was going on- the stone, the particular tools they were using, hints about what was about to happen next, and so on, and to answer our questions.We must have really been an unwanted distraction but we weren’t once told or signed to “bugger off- I’m busy”!!!
Of the artists who were sculpting at the symposium one was the host, Rory McDougal who was making a Celtic sword form of Dunedin basalt,a lovely dark grey, almost black volcanic stone that looked quite ‘tight’ but didn’t give any hint as to what it might look like when finished.
Barry Te Whatu told me that his first loves are the stones from his rohe potae, Taranaki but the stones (yes, stones) he was using at the symposium were a local graniteand a lovely fine-grained black basalt.
Lauren Kitts is a naturalised Kiwi who hails from the US and their loss is very definitely our gain. When we first visited Lauren was almost doubled up using a very noisy, dusty and angry hand sawto remove unwanted stone from a lovely orange granite sourced from a local gold mine.
Anna Korver is another sculptor who comes from Taranaki where she and her partner have an art gallery which features works by herself and her partner, Steve Molloy. When we arrived Anna was almost completely obscured behind billowing cloudsof serpentine dust.
Jordi Raga Frances is a young Spanish sculptor who now lives in England and in the process of making his way to Aotearoa New Zealand he became separated from his tools and when we visited they had still not arrived and so he was still playing with his designs for the angular block of serpentinehe was to create from.
It was fascinating to wander among these creative people and to see how they went about their art. It obviously had parallels to what we did back at the studio with their use of hand-saws, mallets and grindersagainst our use of trim-saw and coarse grinding tools to take away unwanted stone and to rough out the desired form. But honestly the connection appeared a bit tenuous!!
Much had been achieved by our sculptors by the time we returned the following week and they were all pretty much in the semi-final(?) stages of ‘finishing’ and this ranged from a variety surface effects to polished highly reflective surfaces that allowed light to play on the form and for the stone to show its inner beauty.
Lauren had almost finished her flowering budand was using wet sanding discs to achieve the desired smooth surface to the petals while retaining a rough, stippled effect on the inner stamens. Her intent was to make a form that expressed the opening up of potential and she used the flower form with stamens erupting to achieve this. She told me that this local granite is the hardest she has ever worked- they even breed rocks tough on ‘The Coast’.
Barry was making a matau (fish-hook) with the shank being a white granite and the barb(that would be affixed) made of the very fine-grained, dark basalt.
Rory had completed all of his shaping of the sword form and was giving the basalt a range of surface finishes.There were to be smooth areas that would have the velvet feel to them and highlights achieved using a rough-textured finish. Wettingthe piece gave some hint to the final look of the sword.
Jordi’s tools had obviously caught up with him and he had made great progress on his workthat he indicated was to look like a shape that had had the air removed from the inside. As he worked with his grinding discs to get the smooth, flat faces he desired Jordi achieved a fascinating effect with the dust that was trapped in the top bowled surface, an effect that our tutor (a mine of information) was able to explain to him.I didn’t need an explanation, I just enjoyed the effect!! At this stage the beauty of the stone was yet to be revealed.
Anna’s sculpture was nearing completion and she showed us its intended position when it was finally mounted on the base that was being prepared for it. The lovely colours and patterns inside the serpentinebecame very evident when the almost finished smooth surface was wet.
The symposium was moving to its completion and I went again on the last day to see all of these great and different works finished and on display. The day wasn’t the finest with a bit of overcast which didn’t do some of the pieces complete justice, but I felt it was wonderful to see each piece as the artists intended them and ready to move to their sponsors’ homes and gardens where they would be displayed to the best advantage. And here they are-
Lauren Kitts’ orange granite emerging flowerRory McDougal’s Celtic swordJordi Raga Frances’ deflated stone form with his unique hand-etched surfaceAnna Korver’s beautiful serpentine flying figureand Barry Te Whatu’s granite and basalt matau.
I don’t know that I have a favourite favourite but I am a bit of a sucker for serpentine so Anna’s piece probably goes to the top of the class (because I think it was a nicer serp than Jordi’s piece of stone) but then the velvety feel of Rory’s basalt was almost sensual so I might push that up the order somewhat. Of course I really do like the matau form and I think Barry’s design was very pleasing, so… No, there can’t be a favourite because each piece is unique and thus very special in its own way, whether it was the form/shape that the artist gave to the piece, or the treatment the artist applied to the variety of stone, or any combination of other factors each beautiful sculpture deserves pride of place wherever it is finally placed.
Thanks, Ric- it was a very enjoyable and rewarding hikoi.
Thanks Rory, Anna, Barry, Jordi and Lauren for being great hosts- sorry if we got in the way!!
And the meaning of my ‘whakatauki’ at the beginning? ‘although you are a stone, you are a beautiful treasure’. My thanks to my mate Derek Fox for his guidance in this.
Post Script: On our first visit we picked up various chips of the off-cuts from the sculptors’ stock removal and so I made a wee bit of a thing for Anna out of the serpentine she was carving.What a nice stone to work it was!!