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Morgan Jones: Journeys And Decisions - A Rare Retrospective

16 July 2004

Creating a feeling of evolution, with each piece growing out of the one preceding it, is paramount for Central Otago sculptor Morgan Jones, as he prepares to open a retrospective exhibition at the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu.

Morgan Jones: Journeys and Decisions will open on 23 July.  The exhibition, which will draw together many of the themes the artist has explored in his 40 year career, will run until 25 October.

Morgan Jones, who immigrated to New Zealand from England when he was 21, has been making sculpture since the mid-1960s.  One of the first sculptors to harness New Zealand’s rural vernacular, he has built up a distinctive and original practice that marries simple materials with his deep interest in human nature.

A gallery exhibition, however, is something of a rarity for Jones, who became well-known in the early 1980s for his large-scale outdoor constructions.

“This really started as an anti-gallery thing, in the sense that I wanted to make sculpture that in context and size could only stand in the landscape.  I wanted people to come on my installations by chance.  I also wanted to try and hint at the transitory nature of life,” says Morgan Jones.

Morgan Jones’s experience of living in a rural environment has strongly influenced his works, with his earlier constructions in particular often incorporating the materials of the farm.  His choice of materials, especially tanalised timber, galvanised nails and bolts, barbed wire and corrugated iron, also explore the analogy between farm life and themes of imprisonment.

In particular, Jones’s works of this time likened the way that animals on farms are grouped, sorted and finally, with great premeditation, killed with the treatment of concentration camp prisoners in the Second World War.

“The materials I used reflect this idea…They have a rather clean, clinical look.  Also, and I think this is important, they hint at a certain minimalism, an area I am always attracted to.”

Questions of freedom, faith, personal responsibility and social manipulation are recurring themes in Jones’s work. He says that through the shorthand of sculpture, he finds it possible to confront these ideas.

“I am more at ease being one step removed.  It gives me greater freedom to say what I think is relevant.”

Although Jones’s works often relies on context and environment to allow full understanding of them, the artist doesn’t believe his sculpture is complicated.

“I am not convinced the viewer needs to know anything about my work other than what stands in front of their eyes.”

Gallery Curator of Contemporary Art Felicity Milburn says Morgan Jones’s works invite viewers to make choices and many focus on the idea of exploration, through steps, ladders, symbolic take-offs or leaps of faith and imagination.

“Jones’s oeuvre ranges from compact, finely balanced constructions to large-scale installations in public spaces and isolated rural locations,” says Felicity Milburn.

“Journeys and Decisions draws such various works together, revealing the cohesion and sense of purpose at their core and showing how each project has contributed to a rigorous ongoing examination of human motivations and behaviour.”

Morgan Jones will give a floortalk on his retrospective exhibition as part of the Gallery’s Montana Wednesday Evenings series, on Wednesday 28 July at 6pm. Admission is free.

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