An Interview with Sculptor Paul Dibble
Paul Dibble is the New Zealand Sculptor who created 'The Southern Stand'. The New Zealand Memorial, in Hyde Park, which commemorates the long relationship between New Zealand and The United Kingdom and is dedicated to the New Zealand people and Culture.
With thanks to Fran and Paul Dibble for taking the time to tell us more about their work and aspirations for the future. We wish them continued success.
Tell us about your background and your life so far, where you grew up, went to school and how your interest in being an artist grew?
'I grew up in a small farming community called Waitakaruru
(it loosely translates as the Owl that sits on the Water) in the
Hauraki Plains. There is little evidence of the settlement now.
There were four shops, a bank, a saleyards and a wharf. It was
basically a flat reclaimed swamp area. I went to school in the area
then at high school shifted to Thames, as no art was taught at the
local school, making the trip of 20 km each day on a motorbike so I
could take art and pass the entrance exam to get into Elam School
of Art in Auckland.'
How did you come to be the chosen sculptor for the Hyde Park Memorial?
'The Hyde Park Project was determined by a competition with each
sculptor working in an organised partnership with an architect. I
had worked with John Hardwick Smith, of Athfield Architects before,
on a job with the local Palmerston North library, so asked him if
he wanted to be involved. From there we developed a team to
work with and tossed around ideas, then bringing in other expertise
(for exmple hiring a historian) before submitting our proposal.
Then in the various stages we were eventually whittled down to the
How did you come up with the concept of the Southern Stand?
'Early on our group agreed that we did not want to use the form of a wall (as the Australians had) but rather a sculptural installation that was fully three dimensional and defined an area that people could walk through. References in developing these forms were from boundry markers of all types used to define areas; pou markers around early Maori settlements, large rocks in pre-Celtic areas, wharetas as used in fence posts in New Zealand settlements. The four sided whareta forms were cut on an angle to expose a crucifix form which was coloured white reminiscent of the great military cemetaries where there is field of white ordered crosses showing the loss of war. The forms were set on a slight diagonal, partly so the crosses became more visible, but mainly because this expressed the idea of defiance or defence of an area.
Then later we arranged these single standing forms so that there is a regimented group in the front then with the back six in the shape of the southern cross, with lights applied to their tops, rather than the white cross. These six were also made in a different shape, a cross more square and 'star-like' rather then more as a crucifix. The installation is both ordered and disordered, there is a sense of order in the front group but as a whole they float over the hill and cut across a pathway, giving a certain surprise and tension and informality.
The surfaces of the standards were deliberatly left rough and
raw. Efforts in the casting were made to ensure this rawness was
left in. The front standards (standard was the name given to each
of these structures) were embellished with relief motifs and quotes
encised and built up. These were intentionally kept to low relief
so from afar they were not obvious or impinging on the overall form
but could be 'discovered' on coming closer and becoming involved
with the structures. The quotes chosen was from a wide range of
areas from a broad research (everything from pieces of letters home
from soldiers, kowhaiwhai, quotes by writers like Katherine
Mansfield and Allen Curnow, an image of a cabbage tree that was
taken from NZ to the UK, a rugby ball). Mostly they are primary
sources so that people's own words are left unaltered. This helped
to satisfy the brief that this project must not be just a war
memorial but should describe the wider relationship betwen NZ and
the UK. It also gives something that will have an added interest
over multiple visits where different new quotes can be found each
time a person sees the memorial.'
Do you have any family history relating to the world wars and/or the UK relationship?
'I am a fourth generation Pakeha, with my family on both sides
coming from Britain.'
If visitors to the memorial were to take away one thought from experiencing your sculpture, what would it be?
'The NZ Memorial defines a special place dedicated to NZ people
and it's culture.'
Were there any setbacks, change of plans, issues in the making of the Southern Stand? I would imagine it doesnt pack up so well for transportation!
'This has been a very technically challenging project. At one
stage we decided at the workshop that the scale of the standards
was not suficiently large and so we started again and remade all 16
patterns. Although difficult we decided it was incredibly important
to get the works of the right scale for the site. They are more
difficult castings than many people realize as the shafts are not
prefabricated but are poured in a single hit, apart form the odd
shelf and icon added on. This is to make the structures stronger
and to stop any distortions that welding could easily cause. And on
the design front there were hundreds of possible inclusions that
needed to be narrowed down and we didn't want the forms to end up
looking too cluttered.'
Are you working on any other Sculptures at the moment, or in the near future?
'I've just sent a large work to England where it is currently
being installed in Salisbury. And I have an exhibition currently on
in Sydney, at Martin Borwne Fine Arts, that finishes at the end of
What inspires you and your work?
'I am often known as a sculptor who uses NZ subject matter but
it is probably more accurate to say that I work from things that I
know and have real experience of and most of this comes from
growing up and living in New Zealand.'
The Southern Stand and what lies ahead...
'The memorial piece was crated and shipped at the end of May, making the transit in its container for quite a few weeks then in storage here in the UK until the site was ready. So I have had a reasonable period since most of it was completed- aside from the installation. The demands of the work covered nearly a 14 month period before shipping. Although pleased with the work I am also pleased to move on to start new projects. Perhaps as a reaction to the measured and controlled forms of the standards I have started a more relaxed series titled "In the Sticks" that again use uprights, except here with patterns of cast sticks with small senarios woven among them. These will eventually make up an exhibition to be shown early next year at Black Barn Gallery in Havelock North, NZ. I m looking at making one of these, currently model sized, 3 of 4 metres high as my next project.'