Wi Te Tau Pirika Taepa : Te Arawa; Ngāti Whakaue, Te Roro o Te Rangi, Te Āti Awa : a dissertation, presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Masters in Māori Visual Arts at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand
Apart from the occasional production of musical instruments like nose flutes, the making and firing of clay artworks is pretty well unknown in Māori arts and crafts traditions, though its emergence is connected with the prehistoric Lapita pottery tradition of SE Asia and passed through New Caledonia, Melanesia, Central and Eastern Pacific to reach Samoa and Tonga by approximately 1000 BC, where it then ceased.
From service in Vietnam, working as a prison officer at Wellington’s Wi Tako prison, and becoming a self-taught carver, to employment as a social worker where I taught boys in reform institutions how to carve, I came to develop a specific interest in clay as an alternative to wood, as a medium. Clay offered me a welcome level of freedom compared with carving, and the speed of clay work allowed me to capture an idea while it was fresh.
I like to make individual pieces using a low-tech approach – hand building and sawdust firing, using oxides and other clay slips, while incorporating Māori design elements. The innovations I make grow from knowledge of customary forms and designs and are often based on container and figure shapes while technically exploring patterns of notches and lines of early Polynesian and Māori art and recreating these in clay with both man-made and natural tools. There is also an evolving personal language that comes forth in the development of my practice.
The evolution of my work with Hineukurangi and Mahuika; Clay and Fire, and an exploration of my major thematics; Te Putake, Kauhuri, Hononga, Raranga, Kaitiaki, Mahere, and Te Reo Karanga o Taranaki that capture my thinking, ingress and understanding of the whakapapa base of an abstract clay practice. The major exhibitions; Retrospect (2016) and Retrospective
(2018) conceptually explore these major themes, surveying 30 years of my practice, within public spatial environments.