Chainsaw creativity hefty work for Invercargill artist

22:43, Nov 15 2012
Southland Times photo
In the studio: Artist John Wishart in his Invercargill city studio.

A renovated carpet factory, with stacks of fiction, cassette tapes of Neil Young, Tool, and the Doors, a record collection, a trap door and the remnants of 20 tonnes of macrocarpa, is where the magic happens for Invercargill postie and artist John Wishart.

His latest exhibition - Natural Histories, showing at Southland Museum and Art Gallery until early next year - has been conceived and shaped in the Spey St studio he has lived in for five years, with hardwood floors, quilt-covered chairs, a surveying view of the city and the soft light necessary for painting and carving.

The only hint of the building's history is a trap door at the back of the room, presumably for shifting rolls of carpet up and down from the first and second floor, partially hidden by slabs of wood and canvases.

Natural Histories unites Wishart's familiarity with the landscape and his eye for translating the shapes and textures he has handled most of his life into his latest project.

He grew up on a farm at Ryal Bush and remembers his earlier work being inspired by shapes churned up from the soil, before completing studies at the Otago School of Fine Art and Elam, University of Auckland in 1999.

Though he spent 15 years at the freezing works, Wishart says that hasn't inspired his art so much since then, though walks down by the Ocean Beach - where concrete slabs pounded by the waves can still be found - has crept into concepts behind his themes.


Wishart's work with plaster, metal and wood, is a place where natural elements hit man-made material and works them into vaguely recognisable objects.

An egg-like dome is cracked apart and photographed on Oreti Beach; a 3.7 metre piece of macrocarpa - the last of the 20 tonnes of wood gifted to him by Southland artist Nigel Brown in 2006 - commandeers the room "with two hearts" twisted and unruly under the chainsaw, is the beginning of another exhibition in the future. And that's just his work in the afternoon.

While commissions and sales are great, like many New Zealand artists, they are tricky to rely on for a living and most mornings Wishart is delivering mail to Invercargill letterboxes.

Having the first hours of the day outside works well, he says. He can come back to the studio revived and get to work.

Usually he'll save work with the chainsaw for after-hours or for sessions down at his Oreti Beach hut. But in a fit of artistic passion, he has sometimes revved it up when an idea hits him - to the consternation of his neighbours, he laughs.

Most of the time he stays within the restrictions of doing big concept art in a central city spot.

Wishart credits a strong farming background for triggering a creative streak early on, that drew on physical strength to get the idea across.

"When you're born and raised on a farm you grow up making tree huts and things that tend to be quite robust, from materials that you just find around the place." Natural Histories will be at the Southland Museum and Art Gallery until January 27.

The Southland Times