From disaster to creative riches
A "maker of things" is how furniture sculptor Simon Jones describes himself. The 31-year-old artist has been crafting one-off wood pieces for the past three years after working as a furniture maker's apprentice and then as an assistant for a sculptor.
"I suppose I just took an indirect route to becoming an artist," he says. "I like the artist's model where you design and craft something and put it in a gallery so people who buy my pieces are investing like they would when they buy a painting. I like one-off sculptural pieces that are art in themselves."
His unusual Quake cabinet caused a stir at the Red and Black exhibition in Wellington and sold for $2900 as part of a fundraiser for earthquake relief. It was his first exhibition and cemented his belief in his creative abilities.
Jones started his journey to furniture sculptor as an apprentice with Southern Creations in Christchurch, making handmade, oak, French-provincial-style furniture. It was the opportunity to work with sculptor Graham Bennett that Jones says encouraged him to "tap into the inspiration that mysteriously arises from the void within".
"I had done art and design at school and always had it in the back of my mind to be an artist. Now I was working with stone, steel and wood to create work for exhibitions.
"In a furniture factory you just have a standard model and make the same thing over and over again. With Graham we would sit and stare at the wood and he would say, 'Well, we could do this, or maybe we should do it like this,' and we would improvise while we were making it."
Every day was different - and Jones loved it. Gradually he moved from the unofficial apprenticeship into his own space, a Somerfield garage filled with timber, tools and possibilities.
"Sometimes I can look at a piece of wood and I know what I'm going to make," he says. "Other times I make sketches until something sticks and then I work that up into a design."
His sketch books are filled with doodles but they all have a certain bent. Jones is fascinated by sacred geometry, the golden mean. "It's the mathematical building blocks of life in geometric form. I've always been interested in the mystic relationship between things, so I like my furniture to have a spiritual aspect to it, a sort of ethereal body. It can't be seen but you can feel it."
He blesses each piece of timber before he works on it, giving thanks for where it came from, asking the Tao to guide him.
He runs his hand over an exquisite cabinet he's just finished. "This was a soul piece for me, it was almost more like an altar than just a cabinet."
The wood is rich golden rimu and silky, warm to the touch. "That's the joy of furniture as a sculpture," he says. "You can feel the harmony of the timber."
There is no shortage of the raw material for him to work with. He rescues timber from homes being demolished around Christchurch.
"People have seen my work, either in the Bryce Gallery [in Christchurch] or heard people talking about it and they just phone and ask if I would like some wood from their house.
"This piece is from Mt Pleasant and this piece is from a home in Sumner." He points out long lengths of thick timber on his garage floor. "They want the wood to go to a good home and are happy to see someone use it for something creative."
Slabs of timber fill most of the floor of his garage. Woodworking equipment lines the shelves. Planers and all manner of saws and wood chisels are neatly arranged and there's no dust.
"I clean up as I go," he says. He vacuums and tidies and there's no sign of the curled sawdust that falls off the planks as he planes away years of grime. It's that unveiling he loves. "That's part of the mystery of wood and why it's so exciting. You don't know what you will uncover."
In his study there is a long, handmade bench. It's rough and lacks the finesse of his current pieces. "That was the first piece I designed and made," he says. "It was what made me realise that I had artistic talent and all I needed was the confidence to bring it through."
Jones says the journey has been a difficult one. It meant trusting himself to have the confidence and vision to do it. Now that he has, he says the future is about keeping the evolution of the pieces going and refining the art form. He may try merging more sculpture into his designs and venture into outdoor pieces.
And, he's always got a fallback option. One day he applied for a modelling job on Trade Me. He got it and has gone on to become the face of New Zealand shirt makers Nicholas Jermyn. "Modelling is like making furniture sculptures," he says. "It's something different every day."
The Dominion Post