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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Paul Dibble X: A Decade of Sculpture

This beautiful book is filled with full page colour photographs of the sculptures Paul Dibble has created over the last decade, shown both as works in progress in his large workshop in Palmerston North and as completed works standing in public places.

The words are by Fran Dibble, his wife of 35 years, fellow artist, and art critic. She eloquently explains the thinking behind his artworks and the techniques and processes used to create this impressively large and diverse body of work.

As I leafed through this book the influence of the modernists who taught him at Elam and favoured abstraction was still evident in the geometric shapes of his human figures. But Dibble moved from European modernism long ago towards a more realistic art, firmly rooted in New Zealand.

Fran Dibble solves a mystery for us. She reveals the story behind Paul’s ‘Killer Rabbits’. These scurrilous rascals, some gun toting, look as if they could have come straight out of a Grimm’s fairy tale.

His waterfalls, while still evolving, with fantails sometimes added now locating them in New Zealand, show the longevity of his artistic ideas. The earliest appeared nearly 50 years ago. A homage perhaps to an earlier landscape tradition, the iconic waterfall paintings by McCahon, but without any overt religious overtones.

Our native and endemic birds, a great many of whom are endangered, appear frequently in Dibble’s sculptures as emblems of conservation. Frequently on their own but now also in combination with the kowhai whose fragile yellow blossoms he has transformed into impressive human-size sculptures. The extinct huia, brought back to life, can be found perching on its branches as well as the nectar loving tui, and the kereru.

The shimmering golden surface on these kowhai flowers is so magical it is almost as if Dibble has mastered the ancient art of alchemy and turned metal into gold. The reality is that he cast each flower in bronze then gilded it.

It is conceptual and political art which is favoured by artists and critics right now rather than such odes to beauty but in these uncertain times they feel life affirming to me, a light in the darkness.

One outstanding sculpture in this book is the memorial he created to commemorate the former WW1 military camp in Featherston. The nine pillars mounted upright on a slight lean suggest the forward movement of soldiers as they marched off to a war from which many never returned.

Unlike artworks in a gallery the public can get close up and weave their way through these pillars and there are appealing photographs of people interacting with them. This is one of many of his sculptures I would love to visit.

And as we cannot travel overseas in the foreseeable future this beautiful record of Paul Dibble’s works can also be a way to map out a journey to view some of his sculptures for ourselves.

Reviewer: Lyn Potter

Bateman. RRP $69.99


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