For more than two decades the meticulous trickster Michael Parekowhai has created shock and awe.
For more than two decades the meticulous trickster Michael Parekowhai has created shock and awe with his cunning, breath-taking and virtuosic installations. Although sometimes physically dwarfing their viewers, Parekowhai’s sculptures are often very approachable, utilising familiar tropes such as animals, children’s toys or emblems from the history of art. Yet beneath the impeccable surfaces and good-natured characters lie layer upon on layer of meaning that can include post-colonial commentary and acerbic political critique. As well as exhibiting his work in public art institutions nationally and internationally, Parekowhai also teaches at the Elam School of Fine Arts where he exerts a benevolent, inspiring and assertive presence.
"Ideas are everywhere and at a certain point you commit to one and make a leap of faith."
VWJ: Firstly, I was wondering how you find a point of departure or inspiration for a new body of work...
MP: Ideas are everywhere and at a certain point you commit to one and make a leap of faith.
VWJ: And in making works do you find the process of fabrication enjoyable? Do you have a standing relationship with technicians or fabricators?
MP: I have a small team who help me make work. Sculpture is different to painting - it's often a team effort. The physical nature of production and the specialised technical processes involved (engineering, casting, issues relating to scale etc.) mean that I have to get others involved.
VWJ: If so how do you communicate your ideas to them?
MP: It begins with a conversation, but the process can vary and sometimes things work and sometimes they don't.
Interview: Victoria Wynne Jones
The World Turns
VWJ: Much of your work is highly-finished, polished and shiny, what do you think these surface effects might achieve?
MP: The surface finish of an object is a formal issue for me - no different to other formal issues such as mass, weight, materiality, scale, etc. Formal issues in sculpture influence how a person experiences an object and the space it inhabits.
VWJ: Many of your artworks have very pertinent and loaded titles, do you begin with a title and work from there or is it something that comes later in the process?
MP: Works are usually titled when they are close to completion.
VWJ: You have exhibited in so many different arenas, from dealer galleries, to public institutions to biennales. In what kind of spaces do you enjoy exhibiting in the most?
MP: Every space has its own challenges and often it's the less conventional spaces that are more fun.
VWJ: How did it feel seeing such a large survey of your past work exhibited in Brisbane's Gallery of Modern Art?
MP: It was a big project, involving a lot of work and financial commitment. It was interesting to see twenty six years of work in one place at one time.
VWJ: Are there any senior artists or historical figures or artists that you look up to?
MP: Duchamp, Magritte, Brancusi.
VWJ: How much does teaching feed into your own artistic practice?
MP: Education has played a supporting role in my art practice. Both my parents were teachers and I taught art at secondary school for 8 years before become a lecturer at Elam 16 years ago. It's the only real job I've ever had.
Images Courtesy of the artist and Michael Lett, Auckland