The figurative has been out of fashion for so long and people have said to me ‘the figure has had its day.’ Hello?
We are human beings! So long as we are human beings the figure is going to be there.
In this episode of the Cultural Icons series, prominent Christchurch based sculptor Llew Summers is interviewed by poet, biographer, musician and ecologist Denys Trussell. Llew is known for his impressive sculptures of figures, and though his work has been relatively contentious, he notes candidly that he “brought the nude to Christchurch.”
Llew has been surrounded by the arts from an early age: his parents ran a book shop, his father wrote art reviews and was friends with Colin McCahon, and Tony Fomison used to babysit him. He had his first exhibition at the Centre of Contemporary Art (COCA) in 1971 and continues to create works in bronze, wood, clay and concrete. An art history buff, he cites German sculptors such as Wilhelm Lehmbruck and Ernst Barlach as artists he feels an affinity with, particularly in their focus on the figurative and their sense of the monumental.
His sculptures are often simplified forms that exude solidity and strength, yet are also dynamic and rhythmic. Llew feels his art should reflect the materials they are made from, and works directly, launching himself into the material. Sculpture requires great physicality yet he celebrates the spiritual and intuitive too, aware that there needs to be a balance. Ultimately for Llew, his works need to be aesthetically pleasing and highlight the sensuality of the material.
His passion emanates through his talkative nature as he recalls his life and work. Llew isn’t interested in all the ‘-isms’ in art that flow in and out of vogue, instead preferring to carve his own path. Discussing frankly some of his major works like Ecce Homo, Ariel¸ Tranquillity and the controversial 14 Stations of the Cross for the Christchurch Basilica, what shines through is Llew’s loyalty to the human figure and other natural forms.