Award-winning Sculpture Same but Different

Ambiguous, loud and beautifully executed are just few of the words used to describe Louise McRae’s award-winning sculpture, which took out top spot at last month’s Waikato Society of Arts 2023 Small Sculpture Awards.

Ambiguous, loud and beautifully executed are just few of the words used to describe Louise McRae’s award-winning sculpture, which took out top spot at last month’s Waikato Society of Arts 2023 Small Sculpture Awards.

Aptly titled ‘Red’, the wall-hung artwork combines wood, aluminium, felt and acrylic, and earned the Whitecliffe Master of Fine Arts alumni the supreme prize and $5000 in cash. Seventy-five other sculptors from around the country entered the annual competition which was judged by highly regarded sculptor-turned-ceramicist Andrea du Chatenier.

Red, photographed by Dean Mcleod

Andrea described Louise’s combination of felt and aluminium as a tension between both similarity and difference adding, “This little work has a complexity about it in terms of an ambiguity of materials, it has a loudness about it in terms of colour, and when you get up close you can see how beautifully executed it is.”

This critique was music to Louise’s ears.

“As Andrea talked about the winning work she described the work back to me, completely picking up on what I was trying to achieve,” says Louise. “It was a magic moment for me hearing that the ideas I often find difficult to express were realised and understood.

“For me, this work is a celebration of material, of the world. I was looking for a tension between materials while having them speak the same dialect, the same secret language. The same and different. I’m also interested in being able to see into the armature of the work. Using colour as the thing that holds the work together, it’s more than aesthetic – it has a job to do, to be the structure.”

The Pakiri-based artist graduated from Whitecliffe in 2016 and has exhibited her work all over the country including Waiheke Island’s Sculpture on the Gulf, the Brick Bay Sculpture Trail, Seed Gallery, and The Vivian. Her favourite exhibition to date, ‘Hurricane Lizards & Plastic Squid’, was held last year at WrW&Co in Matakana.

“That was a breakthrough for me as I found my feet with material and technique, the form and colour.”

Although Louise was an exhibiting artist prior to enrolling at Whitecliffe, completing the MFA fired up her critical thinking and sparked a strong shift in her practice.

“Since graduating I’m able to push and experiment while being able to question and interrogate my thinking. I can set up some good parameters in relation to intention, and I’ve found this new set of tools has become a structure in my practice that I’m honing and improving over time.

“Now, I can unpack my own work as I’m making it and test it against the intention – a process which has really helped me to experiment successfully. The MFA at Whitecliffe has set me up to quietly grow confidence in the studio.”

Louise began her creative journey as a painter, but her work now also spans sculpture, craft and design, “with a toe in performance”. When her painting practice moved from canvas to wooden boards due to lack of money, she began using whatever she could find to express her creativity.

“The painted wood got split, cut and reassembled which made them a kind of relief work. Gradually these works pushed out further and further from the wall until I got to a point where I couldn’t bear the rectangle any longer. It became oppressive. I’m still a painter – it’s in my DNA - but now I use the paint in a tradesperson-type way. The elements of making a painting are still there, but they’ve been played with. The frame is in, a part of the work, the coloured material winds through, each talks to the other.”

For Louise, the link between the process of making and living is an integral part of her practice.

“The challenge of making a work is a reflection of the challenge of living a life, they happen simultaneously. The highs and lows, the mistakes, the confronting experience of relationships, the fragility, the joy, the chaos and the calm. This is why I make, and why process is important to me. It’s a structure that I use to keep going, keep trying and keep questioning despite fear, malaise, distraction and curve balls. It’s life.”

For more of Louise’s work visit or check out her upcoming exhibitions including a solo show at The Grey Place, starting August 29, and Sculpture on the Shore and the BOON Sculpture Walk, Kirikiriroa, both of which are taking place in Summer 2023/24.

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