Design: A bit of magic in the macabre

Ben Crawford is blown away by a Kiwi sculptor

Lisa Black's sculptures, on display at World in Britomart. Photo / Ben Crawford
Lisa Black's sculptures, on display at World in Britomart. Photo / Ben Crawford

Baboon brain-cavities overflowing with antique watch components. A taxidermy fawn peering out through mechanical eyes. Or 10 beautiful butterflies daintily perched under a giant glass dome. Sculptor Lisa Black knows how to make a statement.

However, her love of sculpting was only ever a hobby until two years ago when Lisa put some of her work online and the world discovered her creative genius. Things took off.

All her pieces sold quickly and turned a pastime into a blossoming career.

And I can see why. Her sculptures are so unique. They may not be everyone's cup of tea but they create interest, generate discussion and encourage opinion which, in my mind, is the definition of successful art.

Woven through all of Lisa's work is the common thread of nature and until a year ago, everything she produced was taxidermy-based. These modified animals challenge the supposed independent realms of nature and technology by blending them together to create remarkably original and internationally well-received pieces of art.

Recently, Lisa has added vintage butterfly domes to her catalogue. Inspired by the Domes du Marriage from 19th-century France, these glassed beauties are a little less macabre but equally intriguing.

Lisa finds that most of her inspiration comes from being really tired or waking up during the night. In fact, it was a dream-state image of a mechanical horse that provided the vision for her first piece, Fixed Fawn.

In a tale of contrasts, Lisa's success has been achieved in the opposite direction from most New Zealand artists because 99 per cent of her taxidermy work is sold offshore, including sell-out exhibitions in major museums and galleries around the globe. But so far, Kiwis have yet to discover the brilliance in their backyard, possibly finding her pieces a bit too edgy.

We'll soon get a chance though. Lisa is creating new pieces for an upcoming exhibition at Auckland's Design 55 in early December. But don't be late to the opening. Her brand new butterfly domes and one-off hourglasses filled with golden animal skulls will be snapped up in a heartbeat by discerning art lovers.

In the words of World co-founder Francis Hooper, whose fashion stores are adorned with many of Lisa's domes, "she is a new talent and we need to encourage this girl to shine!"

Amen to that.

Visit Lisa's website to view more of her work and upcoming exhibitions.


Lisa's Styling Tips

1. Contrast vintage with contemporary to avoid an interior cliche. Play with heights, sizes and materials, but always remember things look best when arranged in uneven quantities.

2. If you're into industrial decor, select genuine pieces. Mass-produced replicas can often look tacky and, in the long run, you'll spend less by buying the real deal at places like The Vitrine or The Boiler Room.

3. Try to include one unique or handmade item in each room that reflects your personality to avoid that staged or impersonal look. It could be anything from a sculpture or piece of art to a hand-blown vase or something you or your child has made.


A winner's thoughts

I was a tad jealous of the teams last weekend when they held their open homes. I still get all-over body tingles when I think back to those two days last year. We felt like rock stars with thousands of people screaming our names and asking for photos or an autograph. It was incredible and something I'll never forget.

This year, I was one of those eager fans, keen to see the houses and maybe grab a selfie or two with the stars of the show. The only problem is, after viewing each property, I can't pick a winner.

Loz and Tom have a creative, welcoming style. Their living-dining-kitchen-deck hub is a massive selling feature. Alisa and Koan's home is a lot more modern than I expected and I was left drooling by the giant stacking doors that remove two entire walls in their dining area.

Then Pete and Andy. Wow. They were judged harshly. Their home is fantastic and could be a bolter on auction night. And finally, Alice and Caleb. Their place has great street appeal, it's packed with design flair and has perfect flow.

It's so close that I'm picking the auction order could be the deciding factor.

Ben Crawford won The Block NZ last year with sister Libby and runs creative advertising agency Libby and Ben.

- Herald on Sunday

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