Lost in the woods

Where most would see beach-combed de­tri­tus, Conor Je­ory sees the faces of his an­ces­tors.

Element - - Artisan - By Re­becca Blithe

From a quaint gar­den shed in Devon­port comes a per­sis­tent tap­ping sound, am­pli­fied by the quiet of the sun-drenched street. In­side the weath­er­board shed can be found Gis­borne-based artist Conor Je­ory, set up un­der a large win­dow. “In the mid­dle of win­ter it can be so cold, but as soon as you start work­ing, every­thing else dis­ap­pears,” says the full-time artist, set­ting down his chisel.

Com­mand­ing im­me­di­ate at­ten­tion is Je­ory’s haunt­ing col­lec­tion of carved works as­sem­bled on a ta­ble at the en­trance; from stylised waka to land­scapes. The most ar­rest­ing pieces are three life-size faces pro­trud­ing from wood that he’s res­cued from rot while beach-comb­ing Gis­borne’s coast­line.

“Look what weather does to wood,” says Je­ory point­ing out the dam­ages ac­quired over time on a par­tially carved, gnarled piece of wood. “There’s so much more of a story in us­ing re­cy­cled wood. I’m work­ing with an old post at the mo­ment. You can al­most hear the ci­cadas, and smell the sheep shit. And all the old rusty nails and sta­ples and stuff, they’re like jew­ellery to me.”

Taught to carve as a teenager, Je­ory says he gave up for a long time af­ter fac­ing such dis­ap­point­ment when the wood broke or crum­bled.

“I’d spend a week bunk­ing school, work­ing on a carv­ing down at the wil­low tree, and then to have it break, it was heart­break­ing.”

In­stead he ven­tured into other artis­tic medi­ums like pa­pier mache as well as pur­su­ing a ca­reer as a chef. But while vis­it­ing his sis­ter in Devon­port sev­eral years ago he picked up a piece of wood, cre­ated a carv­ing and took it to a gallery where it sold in­stantly to an Ital­ian buyer.

“I like that these crusty old bits of wood have peo­ple take them home and dis­play them on their man­tel piece and trea­sure them,” he says of his suc­cess­ful sales to both lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional buy­ers.

Since his rein­tro­duc­tion to carv­ing, Je­ory says he’s adopted a new out­look on the gam­ble of work­ing with old wood.

“I let the wood lead me. It’s like eat­ing into the wood to find the per­son in there, al­most like pulling it away to re­veal the flesh,” he says run­ning his hands over the nat­u­ral scars of his work. “And I got a bit older and calmer.”

In­spired by the sto­ries from his child­hood, Je­ory’s land­scapes tell the tra­di­tional tale of Pa­p­at­u­anuku and well-known phrases are etched in bold font around their base.

“My mother is Maori and my fa­ther English. We grew up with these myths and leg­ends.”

A modern take on tra­di­tional Maori carv­ings, his stylised faces bear both Euro­pean fea­tures and tribal tat­toos, the lat­ter he achieves by way of a mag­ni­fy­ing glass held over his work in the mid­day sun.

“It’s just so de­fin­i­tive of this place,” he says of the merg­ing of two cul­tures. “They have such pres­ence. And this makes sense to me. There’s that jux­ta­po­si­tion of the prim­i­tive and the high or­der. They seem like the right thing to make.”

Be­low: Conor Je­ory at work on his lat­est cre­ation. Pho­tos: Ted Baghurst.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.