Sculptor Neil Dawson Reflects on Public Art

Noted New Zealand sculptor Neil Dawson has been a force in contemporary sculpture for over 30 years, Jessica Stewart writes for American art site, My Modern Met. Most well-known for his large-scale public sculptures, Dawson often plays with illusion in his whimsical pieces. By focusing on the use of lines and positive and negative space, his sculptures have made an indelible mark internationally. Modern Met had a chance to speak with Dawson for an exclusive interview about his illustrious career and his contribution to the field of sculpture.

Whether suspending light and airy globes above public squares or using a single line to create a dramatic silhouette, Dawson’s site-specific works are closely tied to their surrounding environment. “His sculptures flout convention in their lightness of feel, their transparency and their escape from the conventions of earthbound pedestal-based display,” writes Dr Michael Dunn, Professor Emeritus at the University of Auckland, in his book New Zealand Sculpture: A History.

Though Dawson, 71, has focused less on public sculpture lately, his presence is clearly felt in the work he’s left behind across New Zealand. From the inverted cone of The Chalice in Christchurch to the iconic Horizons at the Gibbs Farm sculpture park in Auckland, there is no denying the impact of his work. Horizons, in particular, is a tour de force where perception, illusion, and simplicity intermingle to great effect. Perched as a piece of paper on a hill, the work takes on new life throughout the day as the environment fills the enormous blank page.

Dawson tells My Modern Met that he failed sculpture in his first year of art school.

“During my repeat year, I got hooked on making things and discovered the freedom that sculpture offered,” he explains. “At the time, you could paint something in the sculpture department but couldn’t build something in painting. The late 1960s was a time of experimentation in all the arts and during the four years I studied sculpture, I developed a life long passion for sculpture, architecture, and engaging with the public through site-specific installations.

“I have always been interested in how drawing can work in three dimensions. Wanting to create work outside galleries demanded working on a large scale. Using line to create illusions became a way I could create a substantial experience in a space. The work was then animated by the movement of the spectator and the constantly changing weather and light conditions.”

Dawson was born in Christchurch.

Original article by Jessica Stewart, My Modern Met, May 27, 2019.


Tags: Alan Gibbs  Michael Dunn  My Modern Met  Neil Dawson  sculpture  

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