Down to Earth: Virginia King's Sculptures
The spiral glistens on the black sand like a memory of all the different forms of sea life that have washed up on the shore over time.
Although the burnished bronze coil is obviously not one of nature’s creations, it feels like an organic form growing out of the landscape, at once apart from and at one with its surroundings.
The imagination behind this interface between creativity and nature belongs to sculptor Virginia King. The work is called Karekare Spiral and a photograph of it features in a book on the artist entitled simply Virginia King Sculptor.
Virginia’s body of work ranges from small wooden sculptures to outdoor installations and public works that have become part of our landscapes.
Aucklanders who visit Mission Bay probably couldn’t imagine the beach now without Aramaramara, the distinctive footbridge that stretches across one end of the bay. It seems both strikingly original and as if it has always been part of the history of the place.
It is perhaps one the Virginia’s biggest accomplishments that her work arouses such contradictory responses.
The artistic impulse has always been part of Virginia’s life, although she dawdled for a while with other disciplines such as painting. It was while travelling around Europe that she got the first jolt that helped to set her on her path. “I felt a huge connection with the early Byzantine work, with its three-dimensional weight that combined beautiful form with fresh non-romantic imager,” she says.
But it wasn’t until she was at a sculpture symposium back in New Zealand that her passion fell into place.
“I got hold of a square piece of stone and working it felt extraordinary,” she remembers. “I knew that there was no end to what could happen and that I was walking towards something where the journey would get longer and longer as I moved forward.”
Virginia was already juggling the demands of three young children and had adjusted her life accordingly – the paraphernalia of oil paints had given way to less toxic acrylics and etching materials had been moved to a studio space away from little fingers.
But it was not until she received a Creative New Zealand grant to make the work Passage, which encompassed the migration of all peoples to New Zealand, that Virginia really felt as if she had found her voice.
“It gave me the confidence to play and explore a theme and take it to a creative conclusion,” she says.
Initially a lot of the materials she used in her work were free, found or salvages.
Her move into working with wood was more than just a transition. “I got tired of having to ask four friends over every time I wanted to move a piece of stone and I found wood was the answer,” she says, laughing.
Commissions for large public works have seen her extend into other materials such as stainless steel.
The placement of a work is fundamental to its impact, Virginia says. “You can plan as much as is humanly possible but it’s often the last-minute adjustments that make a work truly successful. A slight tilt or angle can make a huge difference.”
Which is why she will fly to London this month to help install three sculptures she has created for the Xanthe White-designed Tourism New Zealand exhibition garden at the Chelsea Flower Show.
The garden encapsulates the sweep from the Waitakere Ranges down to the sea and touches on the vulnerability of such landscapes,” Virginia explains.
A fern sculpture placed near a waterfall and pool will greet visitors to the garden. A skeletal leaf form based on the foliage of the lacebark (houhere) tree will appear to float on a central lake and a limpet shell will lie on a black sand beach.
“The sculptures will be distinctive man-made elements; glistening stainless steel against a range of greens, blacks and greys,” Virginia says.
|Story: Sarah Beresford|
Photographer: Sally Tagg