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Malcolm Harrison awarded Creative NZ Fellowship

Malcolm Harrison awarded Creative New Zealand Craft/Object Art Fellowship

Malcolm Harrison, the artist who designed and created a major multi-media artwork in the Galleria of the refurbished Parliament Buildings, has been awarded the inaugural $65,000 Creative New Zealand Craft/Object Art Fellowship.

Harrison was commissioned by the Parliamentary Service Commission in 1994 to design and create two works. These are Matters of Pride is the largest public artwork commissioned in New Zealand while the wall hanging Whanaungatanga (Relationships) involved him in working with four Mäori weavers and more than 700 embroiderers from 52 embroidery guilds. Both works, he says, are "about New Zealand, its people and our unique country".

>From his home on Waiheke Island, with views overlooking the Hauraki Gulf, Harrison says that working with so many artists and communities to complete the year-long project was a "joyful experience".

Now, as the inaugural recipient of the largest fellowship in New Zealand for craft/object artists, he says: "I feel total freedom to focus solely on my new project for a whole year. It's also wonderful to have my peers say, 'You've done a good job and just keep going'."

The annual Creative New Zealand Craft/Object Art Fellowship was established in response to recommendations in a strategy for the craft/object art sector, developed by Creative New Zealand in close consultation with the sector. Aimed at mid-career and senior practitioners, it's available to artists, writers and curators.

Harrison was selected by a committee made up of leading craft/object art practitioners and a member of the Arts Board. Committee members acknowledged the artist's "extraordinary skill and mastery" across genres, including embroidery, quilt-making and drawing. They also commended his impeccable craftsmanship, exploration of new territory, generosity and contribution to the sector, and the wit, content and clever use of colour in his work.

Acting Chair of the Arts Board Alastair Carruthers said Harrison is recognised both in New Zealand and overseas for his outstanding, innovative work. "Malcolm is a senior artist, who has a distinguished career, and this significant fellowship will allow him to continue exploring his artform and pushing the boundaries."

Harrison's work features in public and private collections throughout New Zealand, Australia and the United States. Along with the Galleria commission, he has received numerous other major commissions such as the BNZ Tower in Queen Street, Auckland and the Ford Collection in New York.

Over the next 12 months, the artist will continue working on a series entitled Euro Retro. It's a series he's been working on since he visited Poland in 1992 when one of his works was included in a major Fibre Triennale in Lodz.

"In Euro Retro, I'm interested in re-interpreting European culture through the paintings that early immigrants to New Zealand identified with and relating them to this part of the world today," he said. "At the moment, I'm working on a wall hanging that will also include a long medieval table and three ceramic works."

This work will also involve furniture maker Lee Elliott and ceramicist Christine Thacker. As with the Galleria project, Harrison relishes the chance to collaborate with other artists.

In November, an exhibition of 15 of Harrison's works will open at Te Manawa Museum, Gallery and Science Centre in Palmerston North. Entitled Open and Closed Spaces, it's about "a very ordinary, good bloke who was a builder - and happens to be my father".

Mr Carruthers said the Arts Board was delighted to be able to implement one of the recommendations in the craft/object art strategy: support for individual practitioners. Two other recommendations in the strategy include support for a non-commercial exhibition space dedicated to craft/object art and professional development opportunities for curators.

Earlier this year, Objectspace opened its doors in Ponsonby, Auckland. Established to promote New Zealand craft and design and provide an exhibition space for the sector, Objectspace received annual funding of $130,000 for the first time this year from Creative New Zealand.

A third recommendation was addressed when Creative New Zealand formed a partnership with the Blumhardt Foundation and The Dowse to offer an annual curatorial internship. The selected intern will undertake research on New Zealand decorative arts and design, using the Blumhardt and Dowse collections and other national resources.

"Through the strategy, Creative New Zealand is targeting its support for the sector and this approach is benefiting craft and object art practitioners," Mr Carruthers said.

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