Creatures from the distant past or visitors from another dimension? An arresting new exhibition from internationally renowned Kiwi artist Francis Upritchard features a range of human and animal forms made from balata rubber, a curious substance extracted from trees in Brazil. The new exhibition Paper, Creature, Stone also includes ceramic works, figurative sculptures and watercolours – all new pieces from Upritchard that will be on display from Saturday 2 April 2022 at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu.
“It’s exciting to be sharing brand new work by one of Aotearoa’s most prominent contemporary artists,” says Curator Felicity Milburn. “As well as the curiously elongated – and captivatingly human – balata figures, it’s a rare chance to see a wide spectrum of her current practice. Also on display will be a strange array of carefully posed figures, hand-modelled from polymer clay and outfitted in clothing and jewellery made by collaborators from around the country. Ceramic vases and bowls, thrown by Taranaki potter Nicholas Brandon and glazed by Upritchard with unexpected designs, give a sense of mystery to these age-old forms.”
The artist worked on the exhibition during the summer of 2020/21 while she was the inaugural artist at Sutton House, a new art residency in the former home of Bill Sutton, one of Otautahi’s most celebrated painters. “Sutton House is a place where artists can make work, but also spend time with others, sharing ideas and creating a sense of community and connection. Artists are often thought of as solitary figures, working alone, but many depend on other specialists to help them produce their work and really enjoy this aspect. For Upritchard, and for this project in particular, collaboration was key – though that comes with some challenges in our current world,” says Milburn.
The pieces in Paper, Creature, Stone incorporate the work and expertise of a range of craftspeople from around New Zealand, including , potter Nicholas Brandon, fashion designer Steven Junil Park and jeweller Karl Fritsch.
“The creation of the exhibition reflects this particular, peculiar moment in human history, when working together is both harder and more essential than ever. Collaboration made this exhibition possible – and, for Francis, more fun than working alone,” says Milburn. Several works in the exhibition, including the large sculptural figures, were made from Balata, a type of rubber extracted from trees in Brazil.
“Balata is a strong-smelling, unstable material that is first soaked, then softened in warm water to make it pliable. With help from assistants, because the works are large and tricky to handle, Upritchard sculpted the pieces for this exhibition underwater to avoid the effects of gravity. Once complete, the works are soaked occasionally, to retain their unusual texture – and their distinctive earthy smell,” says Milburn.
Paper, Creature, Stone runs from Saturday 2 April 2022 to 24 July 2022 at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu.
Francis Upritchard is a New Zealand-born contemporary artist who works between Aotearoa and London. She studied sculpture at the Ilam School of Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury, graduating in 1997. Upritchard works primarily in figurative sculpture and painting, drawing upon a range of craft and design traditions. Previous works have referenced dinosaurs, medieval tapestries, Japanese folklore, Indian miniatures, European archaeological finds and science fiction. She works in a wide variety of materials including wild rubber, polymer plastic, clay, fabric and watercolour.