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The Seven Sisters steel sculpture by James Wright for Sculpture on the Gulf 2019

Steel bonds between father and son

News / Sculpture on the Gulf / Uncategorized /

January 6, 2022

James and Jorge Wright are father and son artists who share both a passion for sculpture and their workshop space on the family’s Clevedon property. They both see themselves as storytellers, whose works should create a presence and be able to tell their own stories.

James has exhibited work at two previous Sculpture on the Gulf (SOTG) events: in 2015 and 2019. This year he is working on a piece to appear at SOTG’s companion event at the family-owned winery, Wild Estate Vineyard, while also taking on an ambassadorial role and providing mentoring to other artists – including Jorge, who will be exhibiting work in the headland exhibition for the first time.

SOTG has been on Jorge’s radar since childhood, but 2022 will be his first experience as an artist rather than a spectator. As a child, each time he visited the exhibition, he would post his feedback as to how the event could be improved into the suggestion box: “put my father in the exhibition”.

In 2015, his suggestion was heeded: James’ Corten steelwork entitled ‘Target’ made a triumphant appearance and was awarded ‘People’s Choice’. Four years later, ‘Seven Sisters’ made a striking presence on the headland known as Te Whetūmatarau.

At the time, Jorge was focused on forging his own artistic path in photography, and although he was happy to help his father with installing his SOTG creations, he hadn’t expected to one day be joining James as a featured artist. A change of direction in the last couple of years has seen him switch to sculpture and develop his talents in time for SOTG 2022.

Jorge’s work will be on the same grand scale for which his father is renowned – he is working on a six-metre piece in Corten steel which will be entitled, ‘Head Within’. It will be an interactive experience, with SOTG visitors able to walk around and through it – literally ‘heading within’. Figuratively, his concept will be of a person breaking down mental health barriers by being transparent and open with their inner thoughts, and standing tall and proud.

Jorge wants his work to bring awareness to, and get people talking about, depression and mental illness: “having seen people close to me deal with mental illness, I know how horrible it can be. I envision this concept starting important conversations, delivering a magnificent visual at the same time.”

The family have owned a property on Waiheke Island at Otakawhe Bay since 2016, and James says he tries to spend as much time as possible there when he’s not working. He says the motu is a constant source of inspiration for his work, including his concept for SOTG 2022’s companion event: “my idea for ’The Flock’ came about from observing and studying the birds out on the water, as they drifted lazily across the bay practising their acrobatics on the wind.”

James was inspired to design a work that would capture the birds’ movements and recreate their aerial acrobatics on a scale that would allow the viewer to immerse themselves amongst these bird forms: “to be surrounded by their presence in time and space, to see them fly overhead silhouetted against the sky, and to stroll amongst the shadows cast by the island’s summer sun.”

James has something of a reputation in SOTG circles for producing works of grand scale, and his intention is for his next piece to be his grandest yet – limited only by the logistics of getting it to its stunning site among Wild Estate Vineyard’s seven acres of vines in Onetangi Valley.

The owners of Wild Estate and Wild on Waiheke, Keryn and Simon Matthews, are already big fans of James’ work, having collaborated with him over the years to add to their collection of Corten steel sculptural pieces.

“We absolutely loved James’ entry in Sculpture on the Gulf 2015, entitled ‘Target’, which won the People’s Choice Award that year,” explains Keryn. “So much so that we commissioned James to create a smaller-scale version of the piece for our vineyard.”

“Since then, James has worked with us on a number of projects, including his wonderful ‘Just Chilling Dog’, which is a real favourite with our customers. My friends have actually nicknamed me Corten Keryn, as I’m a little bit obsessed with it – I love how it rusts and blends in beautifully with the environment.”

“I’ve told Keryn she’s not allowed to buy any more of James’ works,” quips Simon, “but based on what I know about what James has planned, I suspect we may be about to acquire another piece!”

Wild Estate will also host SOTG22’s opening party and an artisan dinner which will partner James with Wild On’s resident chef, Brendon Harris. Harris is responsible for all the delicious food and local produce that is served in Wild Estate’s restaurant, and his pizzas are rumoured to be the best on the island.

Easysteel (also known as Fletcher Steel) are enthusiastic supporters of James’ and Jorge’s efforts to move the needle on steel use, providing them with Corten steel for their works which showcase its suitability for art as well as construction.

Easysteel’s marketing manager, Brenda Walters, says having worked with James Wright many times over the past decade, the company is thrilled to now be supporting the next generation of artists as Jorge makes his Sculpture on the Gulf debut in 2022.

“Corten steel is a sought-after material in high-end architecturally designed homes, especially for fencing and feature elements,” she adds. “We love collaborating with James because his sculptures demonstrate what beautiful, detailed work can result when combining our product with his creativity and technical abilities.”

Both father and son consider it a privilege as artists for their work to serve as important conversation starters. The resilience of the steel they work with is a metaphor for their shared approach to life: to show determination, confidence and belief.

In total, Easysteel will be providing 97 pieces of precision-cut Corten steel, with James’ finished piece expected to weigh around 900 kilograms that will occupy a significant footprint.

Jorge’s finished piece is expected to weigh between six and seven hundred kilograms; with such large, heavy works, the pair will be once again relying on the precision flying skills of Heliski Helicopters, who successfully transported James’ 2019 SOTG work, entitled ‘Seven Sisters’, to its site on the Matiatia headland.

Jorge says he is looking forward to participating as an artist for the first time, after so many years as an enthusiastic visitor to the event. For his part, James is looking forward to once again being part of the unique community of artists involved in the festival, and sharing his knowledge and experience in creating and installing large scale sculptures. He is excited to be part of the SOTG 2022 companion event at Wild Estate Vineyard, acting as an ambassador for the entire event which he says has given him so much.

(This article was published in the Gulf News on 31 December 2021)