Talented sculptor passionate about giving
On a scenic Papakura farm, designer-sculptor Mark Jones is busy with the "dirty dusty" craft of wood carving in his workshop.
Besides art commissions, he has lots to prepare for a personal exhibition at Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple in Flat Bush early next year.
Having carved The Grandfather, an eye-catching big chair with a human face from a rotten tree trunk on Botany Road near the Botany Super Clinic, a giant Cinderella pumpkin carriage for Starship Hospital, and placing first in April's Royal Easter Show with a dragon, the 53-year-old Englishman is content that his work is gradually becoming better known and recognised by more people.
"I just love working with wood. Art is a really big part of me," he says. "It's an amazing feeling to know you're starting to get known as an artist."
During his 15 years in New Zealand, he's tried cabinetmaking, house maintaining and other trades, but finally settled on what he enjoys.
Howick Village Market sometimes sees Jones there selling chopping boards and bowls, and showcasing his wood skills.
Back in England, he previously worked for rocking horse maker Stevenson Brothers and carved royal commissions, including a horse for Princess Diana and a miniature for Princess Beatrice, and also a horse for musician Sir Paul McCartney's daughter.
However, it's his Doodlewood Chair carved from 38 planks of American tulipwood during 1999-2001 that he considers a masterpiece.
The chair has a peculiar shape, resembling rising smoke or twisting vines, and resides in England. A photo of it hangs in his studio.
"It was an amazing time of my life. It changed me from being a craftsman to an artist," Jones says.
His rural hilltop shed is packed with swamp kauri, English oak, Indian rosewood, Australian gum and other woods, wood waste, machines, tools, paint, as well as completed or ongoing works.
Attached to it is Jones' simple but cozy "Hobbit cave", which has a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, and spiderwebs dangling from the ceiling, old photos on the wall, pine cones, goat horns and other eccentric stuff he's collected as decorations.
The only things he bought are an LPG bottle and a second-hand $10 TV, while the other furniture and appliances were provided by friends or the charities he's worked with.
For the past five years, this is where Jones turns what he sees in his mind's eye into reality. In a piece of off-cut, he immediately sees a horse head or a huge human nose.
"I'm very good at three dimensions. I can look at a block of wood and see a shape in there and know how to get there. That's what I'm very grateful about."
Getting his art pieces, especially Doodlewood Chair, into a movie by big-name directors such as Sir Peter Jackson and James Cameron remains a goal, too.
Though, it's not about becoming famous or rich, Jones says. He hopes one day his masterpiece can be auctioned off and he will be able to create an arts site to help struggling artists.
"I've always wanted to do it. Because I'm a struggling artist, I know what it's like," he says.
"There are lots of people out there who have got amazing gifts. Some people are more gifted than me, and they cannot get out there. They need some money to give them the freedom and they need professional help."
Jones believes in sharing the beauty of art and always generously gives his work as gifts to people because "it means more to me if you really like that".
Helping disadvantaged children is another thing the artist is enthusiastic about. Apart from Starship, he does charity works regularly for Habitat for Humanity and Save the Children in Howick.
"What's true to your heart about being an artist is you don't just love wood or clay or paint. You love life," Jones says.
His exhibition early next year at Fo Guang Shan Temple will include dozens of works, and also his portfolios of designs from down the years.
"It's good to share your thoughts and designs," he says.
"After my exhibition, I think things will be quite nice. People will start to get to know me, not just as an artist, but as a person."
* Mark Jones' work can be viewed at doodlewood.deviantart.com. He's also on Facebook at doodlewoodnz.