Artist in global quest
SAM Thomas is carving out a career as an artist.
The 24-year-old Mt Eden resident is heading to Malaysia this week to take up a three-month Asia New Zealand Foundation artist residency at Shalini Ganendra Fine Art.
And he’s got some things to tick off on his to-do list.
One priority is to touch base with the Jah Het tribe, an ancient group about which little is known except for their medicine-based carving practices.
‘‘The idea is that if you had a particular problem or illness, go to the carver and they will help. They carve a particular form for you, quite stylistic, and it is used as part of a ceremony.’’
But the once-common practice is dying out and Thomas says there’s only one carver left.
‘‘There’s literally just this one in the world. I would love to meet him and see what he does.
‘‘He might not be open to having someone come and do research on it, it might be a bit more special to him than that. But it would be amazing.’’
Thomas is no stranger to absorbing artistic styles from other cultures.
Last year he lived in Rarotonga for nine months to learn from master carver Mike Tavioni.
He also completed a selffunded residency in India where he learned how to emboss and paint on aluminium.
Indian artists adorn every- thing from bicycles to taxis and bus stops this way.
Despite the power of researching online, there is still a lot you can only learn firsthand, Thomas says.
‘‘I’m interested in techniques that you can’t see in New Zealand.
‘‘These days you can pretty much look up anything but there are some things you can’t find out about unless you are there.’’
Thomas will treat the Malaysian trip as a fulltime job so he can learn from the local artists and produce strong pieces of his own.
His work will be exhibited in Malaysia and then in New Zealand in 2015, he says.
Thomas works as a woodwork technician at Whitecliffe College of Arts & Design.
‘‘At the moment I only have time to make my art on the weekend or after work.
‘‘Limited time limits your ability to explore.
‘‘The trip will give me a bit more freedom to try things out,’’ he says.
Asia New Zealand Foundation culture director Jennifer King says the artist residency programme is good for artists and New Zealand.
The Malaysian residency has been running for about three years, she says.
The rising dominance of Asia is only making the connection more important, she says.
‘‘Our job is to build New Zealand’s links with Asia – especially in what is being called the Asian Century.
‘‘The art scene in Asia is very vibrant. It’s important for our young artists to be exposed to that so we don’t miss out on what is such an exciting time.’’
Go to asianz.org.nz more information.
Total immersion: Sam Thomas during his nine-month artist residency in Rarotonga.
Cultural art: The vaka installation complete with banana chandelier made by Sam Thomas during his stay in Rarotonga.
Island influence: A helmet sculpture titled ‘Expectations’ crafted by Thomas in his Karangahape Rd studio.