Icon art centre plans opening

SEEING DAYLIGHT: Neville Parker with a piece of cut steel sculpture at The Icon Centre for Contemporary Art in Upper Moutere.
SEEING DAYLIGHT: Neville Parker with a piece of cut steel sculpture at The Icon Centre for Contemporary Art in Upper Moutere.

Upper Moutere artist Neville Parker doesn't do things by halves. He has been a busy man since moving to the region from Marlborough two and a half years ago.

"If there's no rest for the wicked, then I'm truly evil," he says.

The Icon Centre for Contemporary Art, on the Moutere Highway, will open in stages this year.

It will boast a large sculpture park planted in English-style trees, with shows orchestrated by Christchurch-based curator Sarah Anderson.

"We're hoping to represent both national and international artists," says Parker.

The centre will also feature a smaller sculpture garden, with a central courtyard set in native bush, and a gallery and stylish workshop – housed in two barn-like buildings.

There are another two stand-alone "studio sheds" to come – one for pottery and another for jewellery.

It's Parker's dream – his playground.

"It's just a whole lot of different passions being indulged in one place," he says.

Parker and his wife, Suzanne Busch, owned about 10 hectares in the Wairau Valley in Marlborough and lived there for six years, after moving from Auckland.

They bought land in Upper Moutere when Dr Busch got a job as a senior physician at Nelson Hospital and have transformed a cattle yard, fenced areas and "puggy" paddocks into what they hope will become an arts destination.

Parker says Icon will be a place where visitors can see things such as pottery, print-making, book-binding and painting in action. Other artists will come and spend time there, with the ability to collaborate on projects.

"We want it to be like a little hub of things happening. I see the creation of art as kind of a performance thing too," he says.

A furniture maker from Brisbane is already booked to come, as well as a woman blacksmith, someone from Hawaii and two jewellers from Northland.

"There is already a good mix. I'm going to be a little selective. I think the right people will find it invigorating and others will roll their eyes," he says.

Parker is a fan of collaboration. He's off to northern Saskatchewan in Canada for an invitational "art orgy" – or collaborative event – at the end of this month, where he will create works alongside about 100 other artists.

"I'm naturally suited to the world of sharing ideas," he says.

And as if a sculpture park, garden, workshop, gallery and studios is not enough to juggle, there's more in the pipeline too.

Parker plans to invite Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology arts students to create works at Icon, perhaps through an internship scheme.

He plans to hold children's art classes and classes for parents too, about how to encourage art at home.

The gallery will be on a three-week rotation, with artworks on display possibly ranging from $15 to $20,000.

The trees he has planted will eventually create an amphitheatre, which he hopes will be suitable for hosting music or theatre performances.

Parker has owned galleries ever since quitting his job as a general manager in the corporate marketing world 18 years ago.

He had no plan, no savings, but a passion to make art. That passion is evident when he talks about Icon, which will be officially opened in spring.

But while he's excited about finally reaching a point where he can open Icon's doors to the public, there's an understandable wide-awake-at-3am angst to such a massive undertaking.

Or to be blunt: "I'm scared s...less."