In 1995 Paul Dibble created a small model that featured three elements: a flaming giraffe (inspired by Salvador Dali’s famous Burning Giraffe works of the 1930s), a smoking volcano (a definitive part of the shaky isles of Aotearoa), and in the middle, a madcap figure leaping towards us as though trying to flee these two elements of fire and danger. Scaled at only 500 mm high, it was titled Land of Impending Change, and was part of a new series of works that contained references of New Zealand beside imagery from a European art context. One in the series featured a wahine in a flax skirt twirling poi, there was a figure performing a haka amidst falling leaves; further works included store houses and in one a meeting house. These works sought to provide commentary on New Zealand art – as it was starting to stand up to the European motherland, a back hand slap to internationalism that had dominated art. At the time, in the late 90s, Dibble’s works were thought to be radical (oh, how times have changed!).
That the sculptor, now in his late 70s and 25 years later, has decided to scale up this model to a version nearly three metres in height is, it could be thought, a puzzlement.
Dibble’s trio in this new greatly enlarged version of Land of Impending Change are a team of complementariness. The soft gentle quality of the giraffe with its doe eyes is juxtaposed by an active steaming volcano (bronze steam an oddity all on its own). The tall, elongated lines of long legs and the characteristic stretched neck finds its opposite in the massive quality of the volcano. A figure is leaping away – surely it is the erupting volcano and not the gentle wildlife that scares her?
But puzzlement is the name of the game in the 2020s, in a world turned upside down by a pandemic. The surrealists’ choice of disparate objects – fur lined teacups, irons with nails, Max Ernst’s frottage and fruity collages, Magritte’s falling men – have their own logic. They are choices tipped to the ridiculous, to call out the oddness of the world and the absurdity of life. There is no doubt “Covid 2022” is not “Paris late 1910s”, but maybe it is not so far removed – that sense of unease, that travel into a world unknown with uncertainty of what is to come, and that surprise at what can happen which we never thought possible.
The giraffe does have some imaginary animal friends lurking. A small cloud of huia ghosts has flown in, they have perched on branches laden with gilded kowhai, bird remnants of the past joining the party.
- Fran Dibble, 2022
NB. Paul Dibble’s sculptures are made using the lost wax method, each cast by hand from a small foundry in Palmerston North by Paul Dibble, his wife and manager Fran, and a small team of skilled technicians. A sculpture will be the culmination of a series of smaller casts which are then welded together, piece by piece. This is a labour intensive technique, and it is the artist’s intention that the process is evident in the finished sculpture.
The same technique applies to Dibble’s editioned sculptures, each welded, patinated and finished individually. Dibble makes decisions intuitively at each stage of the making process and for this reason there will be minor variation in the individual editions of a set; no two will be identical. Patina application may be more fluid, or compositional elements may vary slightly in placement. These differences are characteristic of the artist’s ‘hands on’ technique. Only those works he considers successful and finished are signed and allowed to leave the studio.