Whanganui 1990

Peter Nicholls, Artist

This is one of the sculptures in our collection. It was made in Whanganui Region, New Zealand in 1990.
500 x 8500 x 2000mm
Floor piece comprising 5 sections of driftwood, includes stone and found objects
Peters response to the Whanganui River was a deeply felt one- perhaps being born here has a lot to do with it. His family links with the region start way back with his maternal great great grandfather, the reverend Richard Taylor, whose first mission from Putiki to Pipriki took place in June, 1843.

"Whanganui", he says, "is a kind of visual poem on the spirit of the river", and, as such, it was important the wood actually come from the river and be a combination of native and introduced timbers. He settled for Totara, Rimu, Willow and Poplar - the latter two species Taylor himself introduced into the region.

Imbedded in the wood are objects that relate to journeying - a paddle, a compass, a hip-flask. The silhouette of a saw blade and an axe handle act as a personal signifiers, being Peter's own 'tools of the trade'; while an inlaid brass cross harks back to Taylor's mission and the incidence of religion throughout the river region in general, (it also doubles as four compass points).

The juxtaposition of Māori adze blade and pakeha axe handle symbolises bi-culturalism, with the high visibility given to the date '1990' echoing this idea. A nice touch is the smooth rock placed under the wooden hump, implying fast-flowing river water over the bed-rock.

Peter had difficulty on "the termination of the thing", the end piece of wood he calls "a bit dozy". He resolved this by cutting into it a type of canoe shape - an axe handle he lay in it became "my persona floating up stream to the future...the artist tends to float against the current, against the tide."

Peter has been a major contributor to nearly all significant sculptural events in New Zealand since the early 1960's, and has been represented in several international sculptural exhibitions in Australia and Canada. He was one of the leading sculptors invited by the Auckland City Art Gallery to participate in a major sculptural exhibition there in 1986. In 1984 the Dunedin Public Art Gallery organised a retrospective of his work. He tutors in sculpture at the Otago Polytechnic School of Art, Dunedin.

From exhibition label "Afterwoods" at Sarjeant Art Gallery 1991. Text possibly by Bill Milbank.
Credit Line
Purchased with assistance from the QE II Arts Council Funds.
Collection Type
Permanent collection
Acquisition Date


Accession Number: