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Nick Duval-Smith

        self portrait August 2002

Born in Dunedin in 1969, I was taught to see and enjoy beauty by my parents.
They encouraged me by providing me with paints, and I was also shown how to
draw and paint by my grandmother, Ruth Duval-Smith. She was an accomplished
watercolour painter (the Hocken Library in Dunedin, New Zealand has a work
of hers in the archive).
I live in Dunedin, New Zealand and work from my studio in the Arts Quarter
of Moray Place, where I'm also employed part -time roasting coffee at Mazagran.

My sister, Jane, is an artist too. You can see her work here.

I trained at the Otago Polytechnic School of Fine Arts. At the end
of my first year (1988) at Art School, I won first prize in the ceramics
section of the Otago University (Dunedin, New Zealand) Student Art Awards.
Despite thinking painting was my first love, I decided to major in
sculpture in my third year. I discovered and fell in love with Oamaru stone.
I really enjoy the contrasts in Oamaru stone, the rough and the
soft, the creamy colour and the sparkly gritty texture. I love the way it
catches and reflects the light. It's a beautiful stone.

Towards the end of my third year (1990) at Art School I started
No.5 Gallery in Dowling street, Dunedin. Directing an art gallery for three
years taught me much and helped me to understand the buying and selling of
art, but I was also frustrated by the limitations it placed on my time for
my own work. I did, however, manage to have an exhibition of my sculpture
at No.5 in 1992.
I sold No.5 at the end of 1993 and worked as a cleaner for two and
a half years, which was a very grounding experience. It brought me into
contact with a lot of people I wouldn't have otherwise met and taught me a
lot about my preconceptions and assumptions about people.
I took on my first stone carving studio in mid 1996, carving again
part time after a break of four years. I slowly replaced my cleaning income
with that of my sculpture, and in November of 1996 was able to leave my
cleaning job and carve full-time.
In 1997 I completed my first public commission for the Dunedin City
Council, sponsored by Ansett Dunedin; this piece was carved largely within
view of the public in the Octagon. I returned to painting, making small
postcard -sized watercolours inspired by the local landscape. I also did
some interior decorating jobs; I painted some sunflowers on a bathroom
wall, covered a kitchen wall in bright abstract flowers, and made my
bathroom look like sunlight on water.

The theme I have constantly returned to is my relationships with the
people I love, my relationship with my physical world, and with my
internal world; with my memories, my thoughts, my feelings and my dreams.
My aim is self exploration and realisation; the opening and blossoming and
fulfilling of my fundamental self.
There are times when I'm working when I enter what I think of as 'a
state of grace'. This is when I feel totally and absolutely 'with' myself;
I feel as if what I'm doing is a perfect expression of myself and
simultaneously of the world around me. I feel I have no choice in what I'm
doing, as if there is only one way of 'being'. This is a great feeling -the
best- and all sense of conflict or struggle falls away; I feel completely
This 'state of grace' is something I've only experienced a few
times in my life, but these moments have had such an impact that they are
what drive me now.

How do I carve stone? One of two ways:

Sometimes I start with an idea, which can be drawn or just held as
an image in my head. Then I look at the piece of stone I've selected and
try to 'see' the image within the stone.
Next I 'rough out' the sculpture, initially with a handsaw to take
off big pieces and then either with hammer and chisel or if it's a big
piece I'll use an air hammer (looks a bit like a gun with a chisel in the
end where the barrel would be) driven by compressed air.
A lot can happen during that stage because although the idea is a
starting point, the subsequent process is not a rigid thing. It's as if the
idea were the side of a river I'm jumping into.... at night. What I jump
from is solid, but what I come across in the water and where I'll end up
are a mystery to me. It's both exciting and scary.
The thing is, I'm getting to know a part of myself I've never met
before, and although I may have a letter of introduction I still have to be
careful about not making assumptions until I become familiar. In that way
carving (or drawing/painting) is a discovery.
As the sculpture takes shape I use smaller and finer chisels. The
stone I use is usually very coarse in texture, and I like that, but it
means there's not much point in trying to smooth it with sandpaper,
particularly with larger works. Also, if I don't sand it the chisel marks
remain; they become a record of the time and energy that has gone into the
work; each mark a hammer- blow on the chisel.
So, it's as if I reach the other side of the river and daylight, my
recogniton and awareness, slowly reveals the thing. As it becomes clearer I
become more sure of how it should look until finally I know; then it's
pretty much finished.
The other way I work sometimes is without a starting point -no
drawing or solid idea, but perhaps just a feeling. This can be very
difficult or very easy! When it works though, it's great, and it produces
the most unexpected results. It's a bit like talking without censoring or
even thinking about what you're going to say. It's something I've really
only started doing recently, so it's still a new process for me.

'Mano' is Spanish for hand. These sculptures were born of this more intuitive way of
working. I didn't know what I was making until they were finished, and
until I started giving them to people to hold. People's faces light up with
an intuitive understanding of what the sculpture is, and what it's for.
Holding one is at once a grounding and meditative experience, and
this experience is what I call "having your sculpture". It's neat that
they're small enough that you can have one of these with you all the time.
Why be without art?


email Nick Duval-Smith

telephone him at (025) 502 868 or +64 3 4771 882

write to him at 5/31 Moray Place, Dunedin, New Zealand.

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About Nick   Archive   Drawings   Links   Mano Hand-Held   Mazagran    New Work
Paintings    Photographs    Portraits   Private   Public    Studio   Tau   Works for Sale