Sculptor wins supreme art prize
Iconic statues throughout Auckland the work of 88-year-old Te Waka Toi winner.
If you’re in Auckland city, chances are you won’t be far from one of Fred Graham’s sculptures. Graham’s work is in the courtyard of the High Court at Auckland (Justice), on the wall outside Auckland Art Gallery (Te Waka Toi o Tamaki), in the Auckland Domain (Kaitiaki) and where Shortland St meets Queen St (Kaitiaki II).
Head further out and the metal bird that soars across Mission Bay is one of Graham’s, and at the Auckland Botanic Gardens, his Manu Torino takes pride of place.
Along with the likes of Dr Cliff Whiting and Ralph Hotere, he helped found the 1960s Maori arts movement and is now one of New Zealand’s most influential art figures.
So it amuses the 88-year-old people want to talk about his stint in the NZ Maori Rugby team in 1955.
“I only played three games but I’ve been a sculptor for, well, about 80 years.”
He played wing, so he could “keep as far away from the forwards as possible”.
Last night, in front of family, friends and wife of
60 years, Norma, Graham received the 2017 Creative New Zealand Te Waka Toi supreme award.
Held since 1986, the annual awards recognise achievement and contributions to preserving high quality nga toi Maori (Maori arts).
Although chuffed about the presentation, at his Waiuku home earlier in the week, he was taking it in his stride and says he’s grateful to have had the opportunity to express ideas through art for so many years. Often inspired by Maori traditions and legends, he focuses on issues that affect Maori, loss of culture and the environment. Graham was born in the Waikato settlement of Horahora and educated in Hamilton. He couldn’t support a family as an artist so he became a school teacher and encouraged his pupils to look at the world in new ways and question what they saw. “I look at the grandkids today, all
HWatch the video at nzherald.co.nz on their phones, and I say, ‘Read a book’ and ‘Look around you’, because it feeds your own imagination.”
He recalls telling one parent his son showed great artistic promise: “His father looked at me and said, ‘That’s all very well, but how’s he going to earn a living?’ ”
That boy was Nigel Brown, now one of our most highly regarded painters and printmakers. In his biography, Brown notes he was fortunate to have Graham as a teacher.
Having spent the past 30 years making art and travelling the world, Graham is content to stay home but is not retiring any time soon.
“What would I do if I stopped carving?”
Sculptor Fred Graham.