Creating a space to share

01:12, Jan 16 2013
Rex Lucas
THE WORKS: Neville Parker outside the studio at Icon Centre for Contemporary Art.

Men of vision. Collaborators. Artists who want to share their land and their passion. Call them what you like, there is a definite trend in the region for sculptors to take a dream and grow it into a sculpture garden and gallery, making large-scale art accessible to the public. Judith Ritchie talks with Neville Parker of Icon Centre for Contemporary Art.

Neville Parker is totally engaging and passionate about collaboration. He lives by the motto "Resist the Ordinary". So it comes as no surprise that he would have a vision beyond the wildest dreams of most of us and that this has grown into a reality that would have "ordinary" folk heading for the hills.

I visit his Icon Centre for Contemporary Art on the Moutere Highway, just before the Upper Moutere township. Set on seven hectares, a parking area sits behind two large corrugated iron-clad buildings which turn out to be a purpose-built, working-studio space and an exhibition gallery.

As we talk, I come to realise that everything is exactly where it should be and built how it was meant to be. He has planned it all, in the best kind of way, starting with a vision and allowing that to unfold over time. Parker talks easily and a lot, but not in an annoying way. I hear gems in every sentence. He knows what he is talking about and has gone out and done it.

He is quick to attribute thanks to his supportive wife, Suzanne, and obviously adores his 10-year-old daughter, Emma, who calls during our interview. No problems, she is just relaying a message about their trip home from Blenheim; a born organiser like her dad.

A multimedia artist himself, Parker has been in the gallery business for 18 years, but what has really shaped this gallery and gardens has been his deep belief in collaboration on many levels.


"We are only caretakers really," says Parker. "We think we own it. The shame of it is, people forget to share." To this end, he has constructed the large studio building with spaces for several artists to work alongside each other, with tools supplied and big work benches installed. The garden has sculptures but is awaiting more.

To encourage further collaboration Parker's plan is to build a foundry for casting, a stone carving pit for a sculpture symposium, a jewellery studio and ceramic workshop in the gardens. He has planted many trees; on the flat area beneath the gallery and studio they are planted in rows for future market days.

So where does this philanthropy come from? Partly, it's in his nature; Parker grew up on a farm where everyone pitched in, a team effort coupled with a good dose of the practical, like watching his father fix tractors in innovative ways. He says that taught him "that there are lots of different ways to get to the truth - most artists engage in that in some form".

Later he became involved in an organisation called Collaborationz, based in Whangarei for the past 25 years. It originated in Canada and has also spread to Hawaii, Australia, Finland, and England. Essentially it is a gathering of artists from throughout the world. In Whangarei, there are 100 of them, set up in the Baptist Youth Camp for seven days. The group is not restricted by rules, the only real guideline is that work made during the week must be by a group, not an individual. To this end, an artist starts with an idea, talks with other artists working in different mediums, then they work in a collaborative way to realise the vision.

Parker says a big part of the involvement is that artists accept their original idea may evolve into something completely different by the end of the process, usually resulting in more innovation and pushing of boundaries. At the end of the week, up to 400 pieces of artwork are auctioned off. There is no reserve, so bidders can purchase works with contributions from internationally renowned artists combined with emerging artists in the one piece of art.

Parker aims to hold a "fringe" Collaborationz at Icon down the track, just another vision which no doubt will be fulfilled. Drawing artists from beyond the Nelson region is not his focus, far from it. A big part of the plan is to engage with local educational institutions, with local artists and small businesses to bring people together in their work and art.

"I'm happy if the community responds to the space; it may be different to what I currently envisage," says Parker, "I'm happy if it changes as the community gets involved, who knows?"

To this end, he is also very involved in the recently launched Moutere Artisans, which is again a collaboration of local artists, winemakers, olive growers, business owners, horse-trek operators, cider makers and more, to promote and draw business to their area.

Parker says he and his family chose to live in the Moutere not so much because they could tick things off on their must-have list, but because it "felt" like the right place to be. He says the Upper Moutere community is made up of many who have also been drawn there by the good feeling, which bodes well for his highly developed sense of community and collaboration.