Booth boulders rock

02:32, May 26 2009
STONE TOWERS: Chris Booth between the sculpture's two tallest boulder columns.

It weighs 200 tonnes, reaches 11 metres into the sky and is arguably one of the most significant public art works in New Zealand.

But for sculptor Chris Booth, the six-column boulder and bronze sculpture he erected on Kerikeri’s Domain last week is more than just another prestigious project to add to his CV.

The internationally-renowned artist carried the sculpture in his head for 31 years before a benefactor gave $500,000 for it to be built on the Domain.

“I designed it in 1978 and have been promoting it for Kerikeri since, but nothing came of it until these people walked into my studio three years ago,” says the Kerikeri resident.

Chris was finally able to appreciate the scale of the work he built in his Kerikeri workshop after a giant bivalve shell was lowered into place on the highest boulder on Thursday.

“For the first time in my life I’m seeing it and I’m completely blown away by it.”

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While not as high as his 18-metre Gateway sculpture, which has had visitors to Auckland’s Albert Park craning their necks for 19 years, the Kerikeri sculpture is his largest.

“The most difficult job I’ve done was in the Netherlands at the Kröller-Mü ller Museum, but this sculpture is certainly the biggest I’ve done mass-wise.”

Chris says he couldn’t have built the sculpture without the help of assistants Tom and Ngawati Hei Hei who worked with him on the two-year project.

“Tom has been with me for 20 years. I have to take my hat off to him for achieving what I wanted from a technical point of view.”

People who helped keep the sculpture in Kerikeri, despite opposition to its Domain location, include Rod Brown of Vision Kerikeri, Judy Hyland of the Kerikeri Business Association, district councillor Ann Court, former and present mayors Yvonne Sharp and Wayne Brown and Ngati Rehia.

“It was meant to have been built a year ago. There were clients in Wellington, Christchurch and Waiheke Island saying if there is any more controversy up there we’ll take it.”

The project is the latest in a series of private and public commissions here and overseas.

Chris and his assistants fly to Sydney in August to build a ‘huge’ sculpture in the Royal Botanic Gardens almost a stone’s throw from the Opera House. Meanwhile, the Eden Project in England has asked him to develop designs for a living subterranean sculpture.

“The climax of the whole thing is this huge cathedral-like space 30 metres underground with suspended gardens directly above you that are dripping with ferns, mosses and algae.”

Chris considers himself fortunate to finally be attracting major commissions, despite the global recession, but says he’s worked hard for 40 years to establish his career.

“I’m 60 now and it seems like at last things are happening.  For me it’s just phenomenal that one of the major works is here in my home town.”

Northern News