Tapa and Tiare brings together Pacific influenced sculpture and furniture

By Adam Gifford

Sculpture by Tui Hobson and furniture by Sam Ford is brought together in the artweek exhibition, Tapa and Tiare.
Sculpture by Tui Hobson and furniture by Sam Ford is brought together in the artweek exhibition, Tapa and Tiare.

When a guest's lunch ended up in her lap, Sam Ford decided he should make a table.

He and partner Trudi Green had recently arrived in London and furnished their flat with a drop-sided table Trudi had found in a skip. Unfortunately, the wings had a tendency to drop unexpectedly.

"I was working in the conservation department at the National Gallery and had a complete workshop and no furniture. So I made a table, but being the obsessive person I am, I made a table with 1100 pieces of inlay," Ford says. "I thought, 'I like doing this', so I made the chairs and then I made a house load of furniture."

Furniture from his years in England is on display at a pop-up space in Grey Lynn this weekend, alongside the monumental Pacific-edged sculptures of Tui Watson.

Ford says apart from school woodwork classes he hadn't done any real carpentry, but with a workshop and a work skip continually refreshed with interesting timber he seized the opportunity.

"I had a fantastic boss who thought this was a great thing because it would improve my skills. A lot of the job involved woodwork because we were constantly working on old panel paintings."

The chairs show a meticulous attention to detail, as well as bringing a Pacific Island touch to London with bits of woven mats and tapa. Ford says that's a consequence of growing up in Auckland.

"My sister Dale married a Cook Islander when I was in my late teens so I was immediately immersed in an island family," he recalls. "Most of my adult life I have been involved with Pacific Islanders. When I worked at Montage Studios, I spent quite a few years recording with Tahitians, Samoans, Tongans, and Niueans. It just became part of my life.

"I ended up playing in two Niuean bands - one of them just did hair cuttings and 21sts."

Ford himself has a link to Ngati Tukairangi, of Tauranga Moana iwi Ngai Te Rangi, through his ancestor Ruawahine, who married trader John Lees Faulkner - the family resemblance can be seen in photos of the Yorkshireman.

"I grew up thinking it was a Ngapuhi link, but I mentioned to (fellow musician) Hori Chapman my great-great-grandmother was Ruawahine's daughter Elizabeth Faulkner, and he said, 'that's my great great grandmother too,' and the next week he turned up with a chart of my whakapapa going back to the canoes."

That's how Ford ended up playing in Chapman's band Ahurangi at the 1992 South Pacific Arts Festival in Rarotonga when a band member couldn't make the trip.

Ford's furniture also combines modernist touches and a concern for utility. He points to a chair with a low seat.

"I was staying at friends in the South Island who had an antique chair and I thought, 'this is the right dimension for reading a book,' so I measured it," he says.

Another armchair of his own design has a lattice of thin beech strips, making it light but strong and curiously tactile. A battered Sebel Hobnob chair from the early 1970s was restored with a coating of tapa while Ford waited for his container of furniture to arrive from London.

"I also got a couple of Eames replicas and 'Poly-pimped' them as well," he says.

I ask Ford if he has ever thought of turning his hard won skills to instrument making.

"It's too late. I've got a lot of furniture to build. My head is full of ideas," he says.

Tui Hobson started sculpting 20 years ago when she inherited chisels and a pile of wood on the death of her father Ken, a sculptor, teacher and cabinetmaker. She admits being drawn to his modernist leanings - the influence of mid-century artists like Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth can be seen in her big organic shapes - but also incorporates elements from her mother's Rarotongan heritage.

"A lot of my influence comes from my grandmother, who sews tivaevae, so when I started carving I started doing flowers. Her work also made me interested in colours."

Winning the Martin Hughes Contemporary Pacific Art Award in 2004 allowed her to spend time in the Cook Islands, including smaller islands like Atiu and Aitutaki, where she was able to track down older carvers, weavers and tivaevae makers.

Hobson enjoys taking on large commissions, including carving six 4m poles for a fale at Mangere school and a suite of tivaevae-influenced panels for the Herne Bay home of Cook Island-born surgeon John Dunn.

"I like making big things because I like the body movement involved," she says.

What: Tapa & Tiare, Sculpture by Tui Hobson; furniture by Sam Ford.
Where & when: 3 Grosvenor St, Grey Lynn; until October 10.

- NZ Herald

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