Raglan sculptor exhibits in New York show

Raglan sculptor Richard Page prefers to let his work speak for itself. And that’s exactly how a New York gallery found him: they saw his work online and invited him to show some of his pieces in their Persistence of Form exhibition featuring 15 artists from around the world.

The Agora Gallery is a contemporary fine art gallery in the heart of New York’s art district of Chelsea, which promotes national and international artists and connects artists with collectors. Gallery assistant Nikki Fraser discovered Richard through his website. “What really stood out for me in Richard’s sculptures is how smooth and precise the lines are.”

Richard sculpts from a work site in Te Ahiawa. A number of his completed works sit on plinths in a grassy clearing surrounded by native plantings from which swing any number of raucous tui. Most of his sculptures are covered in bird shit.

“Christened by nature,” he says.

A small creek babbles past.

Our meeting was arranged around the tide: he was thinking of going whitebaiting or for a kitesurf. “I’ve been bent over a piece now for a week. Sore back!”

Richard is quite frank that he would rather not talk about himself. “It’s all online, on my website,” he says, about his work.

Well, yes, but there must be more! Some nice stories perhaps? “I don’t do nice,” he says. Fair enough. Nice isn’t for everyone.

He works in basalt, volcanic rock sourced from Raglan – gets it from “an extinct quarry”. He doesn’t want to talk about that, either. But “it’s three times harder than marble”, he volunteers. “I use it because I like torturing myself.”

It can take up to two months – 50 hours of work a week – to complete one of his sculptures. His work is influenced by the sea and nature. One sculpture in the throes of creation captures my eye. It’s a double helix and the dimensions look pretty much perfect.

How do you make it so exact? “Maths.  It’s called the golden section,” he says, and rattles off a number that has something to do with dimensions: 1.61803399. “Have you heard of it?”

Um, no, can’t say I have. Yet somehow that magic number enables him to pick up an angle grinder with a diamond disc attached, and cut out immaculate shapes from very hard rock.

“Grind, cut and polish.”

Sounds quite simple, really. But don’t be fooled. You can’t stick back on what you accidently cut off.

Another piece looks like a giant piece of black liquorice, the kind with a twist. “Try chewing it,” he replies. It’s pitch black, apart from a bit of bird shit on it, and polished to a shine. Next to it is another work, but the twist in this one is left rough, hewn. Grind, cut, no polish there.

The contrast of the raw texture with highly polished stone is a feature found in many of his pieces.

Richard was a builder before he began a sculpting apprenticeship in 1991 in Israel, taught by Yael Artsi. “She. She’s a woman. She was trained in Paris and considered pretty up there. “I ran out of money in London. I was on an OE and ran out of money in three weeks!”

So he ended up in a kibbutz where he worked and got fed. After six months he got the chance to work on his first stone.

“It was an old-fashioned apprenticeship, for 10 years.”

Ten years in a kibbutz! What was that like?

“It was warm.”

And it was more like six months a year, and he hasn’t been back since.

“The concept of a kibbutz has changed,” he says. They have diversified. It has changed to keep up with technology. But he’s been back to Italy about five times to further his “studies” of working in monumental scales. Huge sculptures.

There he helps out Cynthia Sah and Nicolas Bertoux, who he met at a symposium in Denmark. He’s not required for his artistic endeavour, he reckons.   

“It’s hard-core labour work. It’s more about the process, being able to replicate for them on a monumental scale.”

The biggest piece he has worked on with the pair is 12.5 metres: 120 tons of finished product. “It was made in Italy and transported to Taiwan and reassembled.” Creating in pieces is the only way you get to build to huge scales, he says. Having been a builder by trade helps in some respects, he agrees, but it hinders in others.

“Building is square, sculpting is taking it to another dimension. A whole lot of flat lines make a circle. With building you never take it that far.”

He’s currently working on three pieces: two commissions and one spec, which is a piece he is making for himself with the hope of selling it in the future. They will take months to complete. “Pay days are far and few apart.”

His four pieces for the New York exhibition, which begins on December 1 and runs for three weeks, are pieces that he exhibited in the Raglan and District Museum earlier this year.

The New York gallery also runs an online shop, ARTmine, on which he has eight pieces for sale. It includes the maquette version (scaled down version) of his sculpture at the entrance to Raglan Kopua Holiday Park.

“They found me online on the net. It was quite a process, thousands of emails, submitting pieces, waiting for them to choose.

“I learnt a lot.”

“It’s all on you. I had to get everything over there and pay for it myself.”

So no, there is no chance that they are flying him over for the exhibition’s opening.

Richard’s not keen on having his photograph taken, but reluctantly puts away his rolled cigarette and leans on one of his works in process for a quick snap.

“I prefer to stay under the radar,” he says. “Let my work do the talking.”

The clouds over Karioi are looking dark and stormy, rain is possibly coming, and there are high winds forecast for later in the afternoon.

The window for whitebaiting is gone, but there is hope for a kitesurf yet.

Call it finding inspiration among the waves, in nature.

Inger Vos

View Richards work at: http://www.richardpagesculpture.com

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