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Giant palaeo-penguins and the mythical moa will roam alongside classic Zephyrs and Morris Minors in Sheyne Tuffery's exhibition Misplaced Effigies, a show featuring relief prints and mixed media.

Tuffery embraces the anti-war idealism of surrrealism.

Disenchanted with what he perceives as the homogenisation of art, he has turned to his Samoan heritage and his former Manukau suburb for inspiration.

The name Samoa means "sacred bird", and from that came the idea of using the moa.

"New Zealand is the capital of penguins because most of the species comes from the south of the South Island. It struck a core with me - they were like New Zealand's first bird."

The classic cars concept originated from his days living in Auckland. "Seeing classic cars there was like seeing an endangered species, they don't make them like that any more," says Tuffery, who is now based in Christchurch.

Classic cars are also dear to his heart because his first car was one, although his dream car is now a Mark III Zephyr because "it's got more grunt".

Most of the works are in deep red, a colour he identifies as sacred. Half the work is of 1 sq m red squares reminiscent of modern tapa cloth. There will also be a short moving-image piece, Manukau, that will feature music he composed.

The moving-painting piece is somewhere between animation and video. Tuffery has already exhibited the piece in Sydney and Brisbane as part of another show.

Tuffery is a self-styled "paper architect", a Russian term he came across during a 1990 exhibition by Brodsky and Utkin. "The exhibition made my knees wobble. I just sat down and sketched all day."

Once it was the city that fed him artistically, but now it is nature. He attributes that to his love affair with a beautiful nature reserve in the Manukau Harbour, a temporary haven for migratory birds from far-flung places such as Siberia and Korea.

Tuffery would stop while mountain-biking around the area to admire the birds.

His previous collection, Gondwana Waka, portrayed New Zealand as a big canoe but Misplaced Effigies is more about ancient birds.

Tuffery talks about a legendary owl that sat on the shoulders of Samoan chiefs to be their eyes and ears before they went to war.

He admits that he is not really into "the myths". His work usually focuses on more contemporary topics, but sometimes "your subject matter chooses you".

As the artist-in-residence at the Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies in Canterbury University, it has been an eye-opening experience to live outside Auckland.

"You see things better because you're out of your normal day-to-day stuff. New studio, new smells ... I've started on a whole lot of new ideas."

* Misplaced Effigies is at the Flagstaff Gallery, 30 Victoria Rd, Devonport, from July 21-Aug 10.