Artists bid farewell to Government Life building

FOND MEMORIES: Artists Andrew Hewson and brother Mike Hewson in their former studio in the Government Life building which is soon to be demolished.
FOND MEMORIES: Artists Andrew Hewson and brother Mike Hewson in their former studio in the Government Life building which is soon to be demolished.

The former Government Life building spent its final years as a secret studio for about a dozen Christchurch artists.

It was confirmed this week that the Cathedral Square building, branded "the ugliest building in Christchurch", will be demolished.

Offices overlooking Christ Church Cathedral were used as studio spaces by artists for about five years until the February 2011 earthquake.

Building owner Philip Carter allowed the artists to use the 1960s building.

"I enjoy supporting the arts and it was a way doing that. It was an easy way to help some artists. The building was just sitting there," he said.

"We let them in and then we progressively let more and more of them in. It was untenanted on some of the floors."

Artist Mike Hewson, who used the building for about three years, said it was a "special place".

"It was a great creative community. I know for me and my brother, we wouldn't have been able to get to where we are as artists without Philip Carter's support.

"It was quite a precious wee spot to us. I spent many happy years in that building.

"I am very grateful for that time. It was fantastic and we knew it at the time. We knew it was something we were going to look back at fondly, but didn't realise it would end so suddenly and with such finality."

The building's final days as an art studio came to a sudden end with the quake.

From his spot in the building, Hewson saw Christ Church Cathedral spire collapse.

"It looked like someone had just thrown it on the ground," he said.

Christchurch Art Gallery staff helped the artists enter the red zone to recover their artworks and equipment.

Sam Harrison, who used the building for about four years, was unable to recover some of his sculptures because the elevators were broken in the quake and the works were too heavy to carry down the stairs.

"There are three decent ones in there. I'm not too worried. I saved the head off one of them. It broke off in the quake."

The Press