Francis Upritchard’s Loafers

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Thursday 22 March 2012
Ron Brownson

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Early in the evening of 7 March, Francis Upritchard’s Loafers was launched at the confluence of Symonds, Wellesley and St Paul Streets. It was a busy and rainy day. I felt like a witness to a true unveiling, even though I had encountered the sculptures in preceding days. The Wellesley Street over bridge has been a dead-space for years. While 1000s of people walk by daily, it has always seemed forlorn and ignored. Until now.

Trish Clark said at the event that Francis’s project has transformed this public space into a public place. She was right on mark. The bronze figures rest atop three vessel-shaped concrete plinths. They take time out to ponder people rushing by and contemplate their environment while interacting with walkers, the surrounding University buildings and the frantic roads.

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The project developed from the Learning Quarter Public Art Plan; an innovative partnership between Auckland Council in conjunction with The University of Auckland, AUT University and the Committee for Auckland. Their committed aim is to enliven public places and show how public art can create places where people interrelate with each other.

Francis Upritchard is a New Zealand artist based in London. In 2006, she was the winner of the Walters Prize and represented New Zealand at the 53rd Venice Biennale of Contemporary Art with the project Save Yourself in 2009, Venice, Italy. Francis regularly returns home to New Zealand.

“The Loafers plinths reference important ceramic artist Lucie Rie, “says Francis. “Rie pioneered domestic-ware in Britain, and her small works were developed at the same time as huge outdoor bronzes and in my mind, share a sort of 1950’s aesthetic.”

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I walk past Loafers almost every day. Its mix of standing and reclining figures with some attendant snakes is humorous and disquieting. Francis’s plinths feel like votive supports that honour the figures and present their miniature scale in a monumental way. They are a perfect mix for this location where you must pay attention to how you move, as the traffic’s presence is both hectic and threatening.

Congratulations Francis! It is wonderful to have your art out in public.

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Photographs courtesy of David Straight.