Remembering Llew Summers
Called Body and Soul, a biography of Llew Summers by John Newton is due be published this year, with the launch scheduled to coincide with an exhibition of
Llew’s work at The Central Art Gallery in Christchurch, 27 August – 27 September. ‘The exhibition will be a selection of work from throughout his oeuvre,’ says exhibition organiser Jonathan Smart. ‘We plan to present upwards of 30 works across a range of media, including ceramics, bronze, stone and wood.’ While some of the pieces will be on loan from private collections, most will be for sale. Along with smaller and medium-sized works in the gallery, there will be a few larger works displayed outside. Planning for the exhibition is in conjunction with John Newton and Llew’s sister Ursula Ryan. ‘We wanted the right sort of occasion and the right sort of place in the heart of Christchurch to celebrate his practice and coincide with the book launch. It’s falling into place nicely.’ Author John Newton was the last resident in the Mount Pleasant cottage that Llew and his partner Robyn Webster made available rent-free to fellow artists and creatives.
(Llew built the little house, along with his own home, using largely second-hand materials and also created a beautiful garden at the property.) At the time, John was working on a book of poetry for the University of Canterbury as an Ursula Bethell Scholar. When Llew became ill, John then became involved with writing a biography about Llew and his work. ‘It was great to be able to do it and, in a small way, repay his generosity,’ John says. ‘Even though he was someone who’d never had much in the way of grants or institutional backing himself, he was an extremely open-handed person. The way he acted as a patron towards younger artists was an extraordinary thing. He lived quite frugally himself but was very generous towards other people.’ John remembers Llew as an incredibly hard worker who, when he put his work down, knew how to enjoy himself. ‘He was so good at switching from one mode to another and was so inspiring to be around. I loved that about him.’ As an artist, John says Llew forged his own relationship with the public that was independent of the arts establishment. His work was designed to be experienced directly, not to be interpreted or reviewed. ‘People really appreciated that directness and the extraordinary vitality and positive energy of both Llew and his work.’ He leaves a rich legacy of installations in public spaces and at various outdoor sculpture shows and venues, including Tai Tapu Sculpture Garden.