Monday, November 26, 2012

Stephen Woodward
Between Sculpture & Installation

By: Kyla

"It's a week of immersion in something really enjoyable and stimulating in terms of creative energy.  Those 5 days are going to be fun..." -  Stephen Woodward, Sculptor and Summer School 2013 tutor.
7 After th rain. 2011,Marble , 330cm x 170cm x 110cm
 When speaking to Steve Woodward about his upcoming workshop Between Sculpture &Installation, he is almost flippant about his impressive range as a sculptor, both in terms of medium and concept, and his demand here and overseas.  Yet the evidence is around us in the many intelligently conceived and exquisitely produced sculptural commissions dotted around Auckland.  The droll but slightly wistful Kuri Topiary at Auckland Botanic Gardens; an ode to the native New Zealand dog of pre-colonial times, the stepped and suggestive Touch Stone outside St Patrick's church in Auckland central, and the impressively constructed Wai Tahurangi Bridge over Waikumete Stream, Waitakere. Many of his significant and beautiful public site specific commissions are overseas, particularly in Taipei and China.

Born in 1957 and raised in Montreal, Canada, Woodward spent two years in a Fine Arts degree at Concordia University. However, he curtailed his studies abruptly with all the huffiness of what he describes as “the arrogance of youth”.  Disillusioned by the political realities of Quebec, he left for Europe where revelations awaited...

Before heading off to the Shanghai Bienalle to unveil his latest sculpture, Steve responds to questions about his career and upcoming Summer School 2013 course:

A big foot

KM:  Steve, so why, after art school, did you choose sculpture as opposed to painting?

SW:  As a young man  I didn't have any pretensions of being an 'artist'.   I got really impatient with the pace of art school and wanted to go my own way.  I wasn't happy generally about the political scene in Montreal; there were issues with forced deportations of immigrants...  So, I took off to Europe -  and have no regrets.

Furrows from Growth, Taipei city Hall station

What were some of your first European experiences?

Early on I ended up at a ceramics kiln making Sicilian carnival masks.  What a wonderful time...  I was just immersed in the Greek past which was overlaid by the Italian culture and language of the present.  I was surrounded by all the Greek Doric temples and other physical evidence of the classical age, the myths and legends attached to Sicily and Mt Etna... At that age, it was all so new and I was just like a sponge, I couldn't get enough!

Pet Making 6 2009, granite. 120cm x 72cm 39cm

How did you end up working with stone in that early 1980s period?

It was pure accident I ended up working in stone.  I had worked in bronze with the modernist sculptor Mario Negri first.  He came from mountain region above Milano and was a wonderful humanist….he had survived the War and the concentration camps...and was a very interesting man.  After that I was headed for a bronze foundry to earn some money; however it was closed. Luckily and unexpectedly I found myself a place as a journeyman with the marble sculptor Sem Gherlardini, in Pietrasanta.

By this time I had acquired a rough and ready Sicilian style of Italian...  I think I had an 'in' with Gherlardini partly because his former mistress had been French Canadian, as was I!

Stephen Woodward Step touch stone, granite, 410cm x 150cm x 50 cm
 How was it working with Gherlardini?

It was quite an environment.  Gherlardini produced sculptures for a lot of big stars; Henry Moore for example....And the atmosphere: love and passion, tradition, most sculptors were communists or anarchists – it's a whole package over there...and there was not much room for ambiguity....

So what a contrast it must have been coming to Gisborne, then to France for two years then, then back finally to New Zealand - a tiny town in the Waikato!

It was a wonderful contrast of experiences, the warmth and sea of Gisborne, France where our first child was born, and then the Waikato - which for me, is so rich, visually and historically.  The shapes of Māori Pa sites....overlaid upon in only recent years...and the sense of how differently those lands and rivers are perceived by the spectator.  A lonely place, yes but the landscape was absolutely thrilling; everything denuded for these sheep farms... And all the turbulence of the volcanic landscape there for you to see; as frozen motion. 

Binary 3
You explore a lot of environmental themes in your work but overall there is quite eclecticism in your body of work...

I don't have a proper fine arts training which tends to push people to be constant, rigorous, and fixed perhaps – it may cut down on a certain freedom.  I tend to return to ideas over a period of time usually, but I'm very curious and wide-ranging.  I tend subvert the approach of what ever work came before the current piece, go against, in some way, what has been done before. 

You’ve sculpted with an impressive range of materials and extensively with stone which is the medium of your upcoming workshop.  There must be quite a range of variables that different types of stone present?

You've got to find solutions for each and there are tools nowadays to deal with each material...some stones can be polished easily, others cannot; some can submit to use in horizontal elongated format...others cannot.

Detail of Birth Raise
What do you love about stone? experience that it gets under people's skin...  People off the street get labouring jobs working with stone in construction and fit-outs and they stay and stay....[Working with stone is] noisy and dirty…but there is so much interesting stuff to find out; and every piece is going to be different and each kind of stone has properties of its own.  It has such a historic quality – it was the first material used in sculpture apart from clay...

Stephen Woodward
What do you look forward to most about the week-long Summer School workshop?

I'm looking forward to the variety of ideas that people bring.  I'm open to everyone...and their vision.  Everyone's going to have a different angle.  I'm personally interested in so many ideas and approaches myself.

There will be people that come to learn the trade of stone carving and I can show them a number of ways of working having worked in so many areas....

It's a week of immersion in something really enjoyable and stimulating in terms of creative energy.  Those 5 days are going to be fun...

What do you want the Summer School participants to experience?

I'm pretty relaxed but I do want people to work, communicate with me and talk to each-other.  It's all levels which makes it so interesting, there's no pecking order and you can feed off each-other.  It is a week in our lives; don't expect to have a finished piece necessarily…

I most want them to see that there's a wide variety of visual languages just as there are a wide range of personalities...and to introduce them to the endless possibilities...

Each person has to be able to visualise it - their sculpture – 'see' it, and feel confident about creating it in its entirety and I will guide them through that...

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