Genetics of Renewal is a joint exhibition of works by Whanganui artist Kirk Nicholls and his father Peter.

While the senior Nicholls' works are crafted from woods and metals and his son's are made from recycled plastics, they both make strong environmental statements.

Gallery owner Bill Milbank's relationship with Peter Nicholls goes back to 1975 when he installed the artist's work at the Sarjeant Gallery.

"A touring exhibition of Peter's work was the first show I installed as an exhibitions technician at the Sarjeant.


"Peter was born and lived for some time in Whanganui and by coincidence or destiny his son Kirk settled here some years ago and is also a practising sculptor."

Peter Nicholls now lives in Dunedin and his large wooden and forged metal sculptures are special features in many New Zealand cities and towns.

"I helped him install a number of them," Kirk said.

"I have never been to art school but I guess I was informally taught by both my parents."

Kirk's mother, Di Ffrench was a painter, photographic and performance artist and sculptor who died in 1999.

She is considered to be one of the pre-eminent New Zealand feminist artists who emerged in the 1970s.

Bill Milbank said he plans to exhibit a collection of her works later this year.

Peter Nicholls' works in the current Milbank exhibition may be far smaller in scale than his best-known sculptures but their impact is strong.

In his artist statement, he says his love for the primal New Zealand landscape began when he and Ffrench built a pole house on an acre of bush gully at Glenfield on Auckland's North Shore in 1970.

"The pungent smell and feel of growth, dappled light and shadows. Hiding and seeking for the family."

Included in Genetics of Renewal is a series of steel shields, made in the late 1990s and dedicated to his late wife.

Each one has an image of a bird or symbol cut into the metal which can be seen as a shadow on the wall behind it.

Son Kirk's series of sculptures appear classical at first glance and the artist says they do have associations with formal works that are likely to be rendered in marble or bronze.

"Instead I've used low brow, controversial, common household plastics.

"This creates an organic, painterly abstract look upending the formal nature and preciousness usually associated with classical arts."

The plastics he has used had a former life as milk and shampoo bottles and he said the melted bottles are difficult but fun to work with.

"I tried to work in the same way that a child does when working with plasticine."

Like his father, the younger Nicholls is concerned about the effects of consumerism on the environment and has found his own unique way to express it.

Genetics of Renewal: Milbank Gallery, 1b Bell St. Call Bill Milbank 027 628 6877 for viewing times.