Feature Article – Gulf News – April 2012

‘Unique Art with a Unique Connection’ by Christie Ralphs, Gulf News, 5 April 2012

While traveling through Austria a few years ago we made a detour to a small village called Barnbach because the guide book said that there was a church worth visiting. I remember wandering around, slightly stunned, as I took in the beauty and philosophy of St Barbara Church, designed by the architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. I later learned of course that Hundertvasser was actually quite famous, and from then on we sought out all his fascinating buildings – and discovered his connections made with Aotearoa, where he lived in Northland for some time.

Ten years later, on our own small island, it was the same sense of connection and beauty that I discovered when I visited and talked with carver Anton Forde. Not in a small village in Austria, but in a small mudbrick building overlooking Putiki Bay, Anton has been giving new life to wood that is usually seen in a different context on our Island. In preparation for an upcoming Easter exhibition ‘After’ at Goldies Vineyard, oak wine barrels, fenceposts, and jarrah sleepers have been slowly transformed and had a new life breathed into them. Oak barrels that have outlived their usefulness in the wineries, puriri and totara fenceposts used when parts of the Island were originally cleared from bush for farmland, and jarrah sleepers that are more commonly used for railways, have been skillfully carved, and shown to reveal a new purpose, giving the wood and trees a continuing history and connection with both land and people.

In contrast to our disposable lifestyle, Anton has created works of art out of objects that may have otherwise been forgotten, and left to slowly decay. It was fascinating to see some of the original fence posts from Goldies Vineyard. When Kennedy Point Farm was first ‘slashed and burned’ to clear the bush, the original settlers didn’t have chemically treated cut to size fence posts available from the suppliers down the road. Instead, ancient puriri and totara, hard and long lasting wood, were spared the fire and used to make the first fenceposts. When the Goldwaters where planting their vineyard over 30 years ago, the fenceposts were removed. In true Waiheke style, they were not dumped, but had been piled forgotten in a corner ever since. Fortuitous connections led to Anton having the opportunity to give them new life. Anton has used the concept of ‘pou’, a post marking a place of significance, to create the five brothers Tāwhirimātea, Tāne-mahuta, Tangaroa, Rongo, and Haumia-tiketike. The individual character of the fenceposts has transformed to the individual characters of the brothers in quite a startling way.

In contrast to 100 year old fenceposts, oak barrels are a familiar sight on our Island, usually fulfilling their purpose in a cellar, or marking the entrance to one of our many fine wineries. I have thought it a shame that such a beautiful objects that display a long history of craftsmanship become redundant after about 5 years in the winery. Often relegated to planting barrels I have previously thought that a bit beneath them. I was delighted to see the value being restored to the 150 year old oak wood, through Anton’s unique carvings. The barrels have been dismantled, and the individual pieces or ‘staves’ carved to make pieces that are either made of individual staves, or several placed side by side. I think the original carvers, the coopers who are so skilled in constructing the barrels, would approve of their new life.

‘After’, a solo exhibition of Anton Forde’s work opens at Goldie Vineyard this Easter. On your way round the Island this Easter, in between the music, beaches, visiting friends, stop in at Goldies to see some unique art that has a unique connection to our unique environment.

Anton Forde began carving when he was aged 18 and studied art under such influential sculptors as Paul Dibble, Gary Whiting (Cliff Whiting’s son) and Paul Hansen. While Forde was at Massey University, Shane Cotton founded the Māori Visual Arts Programme there, which served to further validate his chosen path.

Growing up in Te Anau and Southland, Forde’s earliest memory is of experiencing the natural elements firsthand with his father who was the engineer on the Milford Road. The overwhelming power of nature firmly embedded itself in his young mind, and continues to do so today.

Forde has since spent extended periods living in his Nanna’s (Taranaki – Ngati Ruanui) part of the country, with the majestic Maunga Taranaki ever-present, and in Ireland where he discovered ancient inspirational art themes. He now calls Waiheke Island home where he, his wife Karle and their son Te Kōmako, can be close to their family.