Jim Allen – Toi Aotearoa

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Friday 14 October 2011
Ron Brownson

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With our current collection exhibition Toi Aotearoa, I thought it worthwhile to generate on-going research about the artworks. As Jim Allen’s sculpture Polynesiais exhibited for the first time at the Gallery, I asked Jim to respond to some questions.

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RB: When did you begin work on Polynesia?
JA: Polynesia was the stone carving component of my final year at Royal College of Art in 1951-52.

RB: Was this your first large scale direct stone carving?
JA: No, I had completed at least five others. The first carved in Oamaru limestone when I was a final year student at the School of Art, Canterbury University during 1948. At the Royal College, a bird shape in Hoptonwood marble, in private ownership in Auckland; a second bird shape in Alabaster, now in possession of Santa Barbara Art Gallery, California. There was also a boy figure in Portland limestone, since destroyed: and a horizontal figure in green Hornton stone.

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RB: How did you choose the Ancaster limestone?
JA: I chose it in consultation with Barry Hart, our lecturer for stone carving. Barry was anxious that we had a broad experience of working of different kinds of stone. Occasionally we chose stone from the school's stockpile. Others, Barry would order in a special block. I think my Ancaster came within that category.

RB: Were there any preliminary drawings?
JA: No. I think I made a rudimentary clay figure maquette as a means of talking through my ideas, but we were encouraged with direct carving to working out the solution within the block itself.

RB: Is it an imagined figure or did you utilise a model to assist your work?
JA: No, definitely imagined. We were expected to carefully examine the block of stone and work out the disposition of shape accordingly.

RB: Did you physically carve it at the Royal College?
JA: Yes. In the studio designated for stone carving at the School of Sculpture.

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RB: What was the reaction of staff and students to Polynesia?
JA: Very little from other students, all very much concerned with their own efforts and where they might come in the ensuing assessments. I am sure Barry Hart was pleased. I valued his advice, we became good friends over the three years, and we continued to keep in touch even after I had returned to NZ.

Barry came from generations of workers in stone, and was good friends with Henry Moore. He was something of a character, always wore a dark blue suit with bow tie. Never physically helped with your work and concentrated on working on the theory of working with the material and activating your own thinking processes in dealing with problems. Professor Frank Dobson and staff must have approved as I gained First Class Honours.

Images: Jim Allen, Polynesia, 1951
Ancaster limestone, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of the artist, 2007