Giant sculpture wins
public art competition

Giant sculpture wins public art competition

15 June 2010. New Zealand artist Gill Gatfield has won a $35,000 Smales Farm public art competition to create a permanent artwork depicting and celebrating the history of Smales Farm as a transport hub on the North Shore.

Gill Gatfield won the competition with her entry ‘Silhouette’, which she will carve from a single giant slab of black granite. The artist had the one-and-a-half ton block of granite quarried in India especially for the Silhouette work. At three-and-a-half metres high and one-and-a-half metres wide, it exceeds any normal commercial quarrying parameters.

Internationally the piece of stone is unique, taking the artist many months to locate.  Gill researched options worldwide after trying first to find a seam of basalt in New Zealand - but the scale and qualities needed for the project, and the machinery, were not available locally.

“It’s an amazing achievement just to have sourced such a massive piece of granite, and to have it landed here in New Zealand,” says Smales Farm General Manager Daniel Henderson.

“Gill is now sourcing special equipment to enable her to handle a piece of stone this large.”

The winning sculpture will occupy a prominent position adjacent to the Smales Farm Bus Station, which is located on the corner of Shakespeare and Taharoto Roads on Auckland’s North Shore. Smales Farm has been at the centre of the development of transport on the North Shore since 1898, when the farm grazed horses used for the first coach service in the area. This coach service was run from the site of the present day Smales Farm Bus Station, which used to be called Smales Corner.

The judging process was led by professional art curator Rob Garrett, whose more than 30 years experience in the visual arts includes leading the former Auckland City Council and now Auckland Council public art teams, developing Hamilton’s 10-year public art plan, commissioning and curating Britomart’s ‘Auto Garage’ public art project and curating the New Zealand Sculpture Onshore exhibitions in 2008 and 2010.

Smales Farm received 19 proposals from 20 artists, and Rob Garrett says he was impressed and heartened by the quality and number of the responses.

“The proposals were so strong and so interesting – the calibre of thinking and imagination was very high. Gill Gatfield’s ‘Silhouette’ won because it was both artistically outstanding, and expresses a clear connection to the site and its history. This work will have a long life in the community. Because the artwork is a minimal abstract form, I think we will get a ‘slow burn’ effect where people gradually get their heads around the sculpture as they see it in different weather conditions and at different times of the day. It’s a work that will reward people with repeat viewings.”

Gill Gatfield’s Silhouette is ‘a superbly elegant and imaginative response to the special history of the site’ the selection panel said.  The solid form punctuated by space and the three elements of stone, air and shadow, contains ideas of endurance and aspiration.

The judging panel felt there were evocative connections between the material and formal qualities of the sculpture and the story of the Smales Farm site and quarry, and the history of the land there.

The Smale family has weathered recessions and land seizures in their journey to build today’s Smales Farm, Daniel Henderson says.

“Endurance is a core value of the people and place,” he says.

“This concept of endurance also translates to Smales Farm’s present day structures, from buildings which are green and modern, to the cycle tracks and Busway. It’s a value that has held true from pioneering times to the modern age.”

Gill describes her work as ‘modern minimalism’. She produces abstract paintings and sculptures using stone, glass, grass, electric currents and magnetic fields. Her critically recognised work features in national awards, art collections, and public and solo exhibitions.

“Abstract art can be intimidating - I’m interested in engagement, in making it accessible,” she says.

“That’s my challenge: to retain the integrity of the work and all that it’s holding, and at the same time make it available and human. I self generate and explore, which gives me a pool of ideas that I can use to respond to an opportunity. I love to respond to a brief and work with people. Each of my works is unique yet connected. This is the first time for me working on this scale and with this form.”

Although Silhouette looks like a masculine form it’s tactile, with curved edges. The detail is deceptively soft and the seamlessness of the granite causes a double take.

“There is something for the eye, the hand and the head,” Gill Gatfield says.

“I hope people will see the work unfold through the seasons.  People travelling by bus or working around Smales Farm will see Silhouette every day as they come and go, cycling and walking in the green space around the Park. It’s an apparently simple form, but will constantly shift in subtle ways.  Its shadow will track the sun’s path across the sky, and people who look closely will see themselves reflected in the high polished stone.”

The artist is currently working with landscape architects Boffa Miskell to prepare a white horizontal plane for the site, to support the vertical black stone.