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Interview: Fran Dibble talks about the book Paul Dibble X: A Decade of Sculpture

Fran Dibble talks to NZ Booklovers about Paul Dibble X: A Decade of Sculpture.

You produce your own art, which you were recognised for with a Queen’s Service Medal in 2007. Can you tell us a little about your own work?

Well, to put the record straight, it probably wasn’t just my own artwork that earned me the medal. There are a whole variety of ways I made contributions around 2007. I had a lot to do with the Hyde Park NZ Memorial project on almost every front – doing a lot of the research on figuring the icons and text to include, helping with the modelling, casting, welding the constructions, right down to what might sound like very mundane things like shipping arrangements but which were actually quite complicated. I also use to write a local art column in the Manawatu Standard which reviewed exhibitions and did a lot to help promote art (and artists) in the community. My own artwork is something I determinedly keep up with (it keeps you sharp and nothing better than creativity, when it works, to give you a boost). Mostly I paint but over the years I have experimented with all sorts of things – multipaneled pieces combining paint bronze panels and even stitching, small 3D bronze works, a series using recycled old books with bronze pieces, some installation pieces one using a giant fibreglass waterdrop in a reflective oil pond and another odd one, drawing on my background in science, using bean seedling leaves exposed to light with stencils making small starch images I use to call my leaf-o-grams.

Please tell us a little about Paul Dibble X and why this book is important.

This is actually the third book on Paul’s work but they have all been really different. The first, produced in 2000 was really a monograph and it was assembled chronologically with a writer that was involved with Paul’s work in some way in each time block, writing a chapter. “The Large Works”, from 2012, was entirely different, put together with chapters that looked at understanding the role of sculpture (like in Civic spaces, schools, private works, and so on). This book featured the NZ Memorial at Hyde Park in London which is probably Paul’s most well-known work. But the book “X” is a more intimate portrayal, it is a study of the last ten years, giving a great deal of insight of the working studio.

What research was involved?

Research is really just the lived experience of being in the workshop and helping make the works! But to help we keep a record of each work made so we can refer back.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

No proper process or routine. A body of work has fairly obvious points and commentary. Often I write down points and then figure ways to assemble and order it. Then I just pick away with the writing when I can, tidying up drafts until it sounds like something.

Has that been different from the way you wrote your previous books about Paul’s art?

This tends to be my method.

Can you, or do you, listen to music when you are writing? If so, who do you listen to?

I don’t really listen to anything when I am writing and I don’t have a particular space where I do writing; I write anywhere it can work – in an armchair after dinner, at my studio desk, in my painting room when I am waiting for something to dry, in an airport waiting for a plane, at a café with a coffee. Over time I have learnt to blank out background so it becomes irrelevant. One other oddity I have is that I like to ‘write’, with pen and paper, somehow manipulating a pen helps me think. Then later I enter it into the laptop, print it out and attack the draft with my pen again.

You’ve written other books about Paul’s work - what did you enjoy most about writing this one?

One of the things that happened at the workshop at the beginning of the period of the book was that Paul and I made the decision to restructure the business so we no longer employed full time staff (currently we have people who come and help for only two days a week). It gave us a lot more flexibility and one of the surprises was that although we had less labour we still seemed to produce a lot of work. But doing everything (nearly) has meant that the work has seemed almost closer, more personal and this ownership has allowed a sense of warmth that I hope comes through in the book. Paul has also added in statements that give his voice within the text.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

I read a really wide variety of stuff, some highlights: “The Feather Thief”, Kirk Johnson (non-fiction), Hilary Mantel’s finishing book on Cromwell (“The Light and the Mirror”), two art books were the Louise Henderson catalogue and the new Colin McCahon book by Justin Paton very readable, NZ author “Wish Child”, Catherine Chidgey.

And finally...

Two important members of our team in making the book were Bateman who showed extraordinary amounts of trust, confidence and positivity and designer Hayden Doughty. Hayden is a very sensitive artist of his craft. He picks up on our ancient hands-on methods and translates this into print. I remember him once talking with me about the hours it takes to ‘undo’ what a computer does to try and make things reflect what art is. His use of gold foil within the book, on chapter headings and on end papers, made the book truly beautiful, reflecting its use in the kowhai works.

Bateman Books


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