Book review: Fatu Feu'u on Life & Art

By Reviewed by Peter Simpson

Fatu Feu'u on Life & Art. Photo / Supplied
Fatu Feu'u on Life & Art. Photo / Supplied

Fatu Feu'u on Life & Art
Interviews by Shona Jennings
Photographs by Evotia Tamua (Little Island Press $55)

Sometimes called "the father of contemporary Pacific art", Fatu Feu'u is a Samoan-born painter, print-maker and sculptor who has been exhibiting his art for nearly three decades, and whose imagery - especially his trademark motif of grids of four-petalled frangipani flowers - has become widespread and familiar.

Thousands of Aucklanders will have encountered some of his major public pieces, such as his mural at the Aotea Centre or his imposing sculptures at the Brick Bay and Connells Bay sculpture parks, at Warkworth and Waiheke Island respectively. His greatest public recognition came with the paramount award at the Wallace Art Awards in 1995 for his large unframed canvas Iva Ivia, depicting three ancestor figures in a white-on-dark-brown calligraphic style, in 1995.

Feu'u was also the founder 17 years ago of the Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust dedicated to supporting young and emerging Pacific Island artists.

The form this richly illustrated book takes is that the main text, divided into three chapters, consists entirely of taped conversations with the artist conducted by his friend Shona Jennings.

Apart from a brief introduction by Jennings, and sidebars in which other voices speak - friends, relatives, fellow artists - the reader hears only the speaking voice of the artist reflecting with honesty and thoughtfulness about his life and career.

In many ways it is a classic immigrant success story: growing up in the village culture of Samoa, moving to New Zealand as a child, the painful struggle to adjust and adapt, the discovery of an artistic vocation through the help of mentors like Pat Hanly and Tony Fomison, the determination to meld Samoan culture with modernist art techniques, the eventual breakthrough to success.

The text is broken up with numerous photographs, many taken by Evotia Tamua, and reproductions in full colour of about 50 artworks. Unfortunately, little information is given about the works, apart from date and medium in credits at the back; there is no indication of size, for example.

Others may differ, but I found the design of the book rather intrusive and noisy, especially the giant multi-coloured typography used for chapter headings and side-bar quotations. Sentences in the text are separated by up to eight pages of images, sometimes the break coming in the middle of a sentence - very distracting if you happen to be interested in what the artist is saying.

- NZ Herald

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