The Making of Whakaruru (featuring Simon Kaan)
Paemanu: Tauraka Toi A Landing Place Ngai Tahu art exhibition held at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Dunedin, New Zealand. Credit: Morrison

The Making of Whakaruru (featuring Simon Kaan)

A few months back artist Simon Kaan asked me to collaborate with him on a new artwork he was creating. I was intrigued, not just because I’m a huge fan of his work, but because we were going to capture something special from a part of New Zealand that I had fallen in love with: Aramoana.

The final production would be more than 10m long and run the length of a wall in the Dunedin Public Art Gallery in a series of panels interspersed with ceramic waka.

And so one evening I crouched in knee-deep water in a tiny swell at Aramoana with a sea lion sniffing the port of my waterhousing in front of me and Simon in his wetsuit alongside me. The sky was a muted grey with soft puffs of colour. The water a deep green-blue. It wasn’t at all what I had imagined, but it completely felt like I was inside one of Simon Kaan’s artworks. We were waiting for three things: the waves to pulse just right for a semi-long exposure, the sea lion to swim off and the last rays of sunlight to deepen the colours.

That all happened in quick succession and then the colour drained from the sky completely. Our window had been small, but fruitful.

Working with Simon was effortless as we carved up the images into panels. My printer Murray Eskdale, of Mint Printing, was engaged to produce the large panels on cotton rag art paper applied to an aluminum backing. He produces most of my work these days and has an eye for the very top end of production. He’s also produces outstanding fine art photography that features in various galleries throughout New Zealand.

“I’m really happy to be involved and to be a part of it,” Murray explains. “A lot of my job is being part of other people’s visions and helping them. To be a part of this has been really special.”

Thanks to Murray the process seemed seamless. Shortly after our work was hung and Simon cast a fistful of waka into the perfect spaces to tie the whole story together. That’s how “Whakaruku” drew its first breath.

“The title Whakaruku means to immerse in water,” Simon tells me. “But also it means to immerse in water in a ritualistic way and that’s what we do as surfers as well. It’s a ritual, it grounds us, it makes us whole really.”

Whakaruku hung in the Dunedin Public Art Gallery until April 25, 2022. It was one of the biggest pieces of art I have produced and one of the most exciting for me getting to work alongside the very talented artist and friend, Simon Kaan.

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