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?”
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.
The hearty aromas of an autumnal lunch hit us as soon as we arrive at the Janson homestead. After a slow journey to the laid back west coast town of Raglan, nothing could be more welcoming. But then to our surprise come the hugs, smiles and incredible hospitality from Yaniv’s parents, Annick and Robin.
With Auckland-based artist Yvonne Todd, you just never know what to expect. Her work shows that she enjoys pushing the limits. Her photographs are highly stylised and close to perfect, but they also make people feel strangely uneasy.