On first appearance, Rex Homan seems regal and distinguished, but there’s a twinkle in his eye and I soon learn there’s a cheeky undercurrent pulsing through his artistic veins. He pauses before answering each question, with a wry smile. It’s impossible not to be taken with  this charming character.

WORDS TALIA WALDEGRAVE PHOTOS SALINA GALVAN

It’s a blus­tery spring day as I blow into Tau­ran­ga Art Gallery to meet the artist who took out the UNO. Mag­a­zine People’s Choice Award at the recent Miles Art Awards. Not only did it win, but his beau­ti­ful piece of art sold just moments into the open­ing night.

WHAT MADE YOU ENTER?

I had not even con­sid­ered enter­ing, but I have a friend who’s a painter and she said, “Rex, why don’t you enter the owl?”

My work is inspired by birds. It’s sym­bol­ic, and I read a lot of Māori mythol­o­gy.

HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN YOUR OWL SOLD ON OPENING NIGHT?

It’s very hard to sell work in New Zealand, so I was real­ly sur­prised. I hadn’t noticed much inter­est in my piece. I actu­al­ly have a rela­tion­ship with a gallery in North Amer­i­ca, called Spir­it Wrestler, and most of my work gets sent there. What sur­prised me most is when I over­heard oth­ers say­ing they would like to have bought it too.

WHEN DID YOU BEGIN SCULPTING?

I am com­plete­ly self-taught, and as a young boy was always play­ing with plas­ticine. My career was in com­put­er pro­gram­ming and busi­ness sys­tems analy­sis, which is a com­plete flip­side to art. As time went on, sculpt­ing was a relief – it was some­thing to take my mind off work.

WHAT KIND OF MATERIALS DO YOU USE?

I work with kau­ri because of its qual­i­ties. Tairua, where my fam­i­ly come from, was once a thriv­ing kau­ri tim­ber town and, while liv­ing there, I man­aged to recov­er over time a lot of rem­nants. I’ve now got enough to see me out of this life. Iron­i­cal­ly, my grand­fa­ther was orig­i­nal­ly a gum dig­ger and he fol­lowed the kau­ri bush­men. I often won­der if some of the rem­nants of the wood I pick up have crossed his hands too. Most peo­ple would look at the wood I use and say it’s rub­bish, but I take great plea­sure in mak­ing some­thing beau­ti­ful out of it. It’s like res­ur­rect­ing some­thing from noth­ing. There’s fun in that.

HOW LONG DOES EACH PIECE TAKE?

It’s gen­er­al­ly about two or three weeks. Because I’m a senior now, I use rotary tools instead of chip­ping away at every­thing by hand. I’m very quick.

WHAT INSPIRES YOUR WORK?

I tend to be known as a bird­man, as most of my work is inspired by birds. It’s sym­bol­ic, and I read a lot of Māori mythol­o­gy. That’s where most of my ideas come from, espe­cial­ly for the big­ger pieces. Tāne comes into it too, as he is father of the birds. I’m not a tra­di­tion­al­ist in the true sense — I would nev­er ever attempt to repli­cate a real­is­tic bird, and I prefer to work with lines and flow. My birds are asym­met­ri­cal and abstract, but at the same time, I want peo­ple to look at my pieces and know what they are.
It’s great that I have been able to make a career out of my pas­sion, but the sil­ly thing is, I would’ve wel­comed all of this when I was younger. I’m not a young­ster any more.

Our inter­view draws to a close and our pho­tog­ra­pher instructs us to stand by the owl to get a few snaps with this amaz­ing piece of work. We both get the gig­gles rein­forc­ing once more that Rex is still just a big kid at heart.