Arnold Wilson believes that sculptors today cannot merely copy the great classical art of the past. If traditional Maori sculpture is to be an inspiration to contemporary artists, it must be re-interpreted and made new.
‘At present,’ he syas, ‘carving works of the Maori tradition are reproductions of the work of years ago. Maori relief work has been thrashed, and to my mind is not “living”. It is time now to see the possibilities in a different environment, and thus to make the works “live” again.
‘Modern tools also offer new possibilities. Early Maori carvings tended to be flat because of the lack of tools with which to round a work.’
In his work Mr Wilson is concerned to develop the inherent characteristics of form and grain in the wood that he is carving.
‘One must play on the theme that a piece of wood is not dead, but alive, to be exploited.
‘I try to work round a piece of wood, for carving works are governed by the character of the wood—its grain, knots and so on.
‘As a rule, working in my own way, nothing is drawn on the wood beforehand.’
A member of the Tuhoe tribe, Arnold Wilson was born at Ruatoki North in the Bay of Plenty. He was educated at the Ruatoki North Primary School and at Wesley College. From an early age he showed an interest in art, and this was encouraged by his teachers.
From Wesley College he went to the Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland. In 1954 he graduated with a Diploma of Fine Arts, being the first Maori to gain this degree with first-class honours in sculpture.
After attending Auckland Teachers' College, Mr Wilson taught arts and crafts at district high schools in Northland, and in 1958 became art teacher at the new Bay of Islands College in Kawakawa. Last year he moved to Auckland to become head of the art department at Mt Albert Grammar School.
Mr and Mrs Wilson's two children (right) play with a friend beside sculptures in their garden. The carved figure third from the left is now in one of the Australian offices of Air New Zealand.
His sculpture is widely known, having been shown in several exhibitions in Northland and Auckland. Two years ago a collection of his work was exhibited throughout the North Island by the Community Arts Service.
Mr Wilson designed and made the tall figure which stands at Judea Pa, Tauranga, as a memorial to the late Dr Maharaia Winiata. More realistic than most of his work, this symbolic statue is intended as a challenge to Maori youth to seek education.