Day job at foundry sparked enthusiasm for sculpting

Manawatu Standard, August 29th, 2014

Brett Rangitaawa










Sculptor and foundryman Brett Rangitaawa has spent years assisting New Zealand’s most prominent sculptors but now his own art will be in the foreground at the Zimmerman Art Gallery in his Palmerston North debut.

Rangitaawa started working with metal as an apprentice when he was 15 at a metal-casting foundry and has gone on to own and operate The Heavy Metal Company in Lower Hutt.

“From early on in the business, art inquiries started to come in and we have always been creative ourselves, so we went with it. Sometimes the standard wasn’t fantastic and sometimes something would need to be fixed or the shape wasn’t compatible. So I would fix things with my hand tools and do touch-up jobs and sometimes that meant that I was making them better.”

With skills learnt, picked up along the way, and encouraged by the sculptors coming through the foundry, Rangitaawa decided to have a go at making his own metal art.

His first piece was a taniwha and Darcy Nicholas, artist and curator at Puke Ariki museum, liked it. He decided to include it in the museum’s Call of Taranaki exhibition, part of the region’s International Arts Festival.

“I got a tingly feeling when I was talking to Darcy. He was really inspirational. I am originally from Taranaki and doing that and going there again, it put me back in touch with my Maori side. It really kicked off from there.”

Rangitaawa said he began studying the traditional art of carving, whakairo, at Whitireia Polytechnic early this year.

“The main things I am learning are to understand the forms – the different shapes and the different tikanga and the history behind it all.”

Rangitaawa’s work includes stylised sculptures in bronze and aluminium – blackbirds inspired by a song from Kiwi band Fat Freddy’s Drop, feathers, cloaks, the original taniwha and a sperm whale.

“With that one I was inspired by what was happening on the Kaikoura Coast and drilling for oil. I have wrapped the whale in a cloak and I imagine him marching into Parliament.”

In his capacity as a foundryman, Rangitaawa has assisted with Paul Dibble’s monumental Southern Stand in London’s Hyde Park corner, Roddy McMillan’s larger-than-life sculpture of The World’s Fastest Indian in Queens Park, Invercargill, and Kingsley Baird’s The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Wellington.

Rangitaawa’s exhibition runs from September 1 to 30.