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Man of steel

The tall hedge towered over by metal petals, wings and a steel helix suggests the perimeter contains a compound full of ore-based extraterrestrials.

In fact, the hedge and recently installed cyclo­ne wire gate are to stop people wandering in to climb on Ihaia Crookes’ big steel sculptures, or to stroll around his Mangapapa property as if it’s a small zoo with a public garden out back.

Crookes’ front yard is chocka with an arrangement of abstract forms carved from industrial-grade pipes. The arrangement has a ritualised air.

At the front is a triangular structure that could be a symbolic waharoa, a gateway, while at the back of the installation is a tall, blue and white, winged, priestly structure that seems to raise to the sky an airy web of woven/laced silver pipes Crookes says represent birds.

In the mid-ground is a squat, stylised Ionic column. Topped with a roofed structure supported by a pillar at each corner, the form is suggestive of an ancient Greek temple.

Closer to the house is a sepulchral, winged structure that seems to unfold and rise up at the same time.

Behind it crouches a black steel, masked form from which ascends four wavy lines with a black disc at the centre.

In several works Crookes has created new configurations by cutting out pieces, turning them back to front and welding them into place. Heavy metal plates with bolt holes that once joined together two pipes now function as solidly-earthed feet one work rises from.

The carver

Rather than use an oxyacetylene cutting torch to carve up the pipes, Crookes uses a nine-inch angle-grinder.

“That’s why the edges are straight,” he says.

“The steel is sometimes rusty. The gas axe can’t cut through rust.”

The nine-inch angle-grinder can.

He repurposes offcuts. The tall, helical form in the far corner is made from a single gas cylinder. Crookes cut a spiral of strips from the cylinder to create the helical form. Then he welded the cut-out strips in the same arrangement on top to double the height of the sculpture and topped it off with a steel koru.

Some works are created from steam pipes from the Wairakei Power Station in the Taupo Volcanic Zone — which might account for the chthonic character of some of the works, most of which are intent on ascent. He lets the form of the metal determine the form of the sculpture, he says.

“This whole set-up represents a higher power. I put it together without knowing what to do.”

The pipes take on such a new character in Crookes’ hands that their original form is barely recognisable.

Although they take on a visual language of their own, Crookes does not see himself as an artist. He doesn’t want to sell any pieces or to give any of them over as public sculpture.

Going large

“I’ve never been an artist,” he says.

“I’m not interested in artists. I got into this and just did it. I couldn’t stop doing it. Five years ago I quit my job to do this.”

He began by making smaller pieces.

“Then one day I thought ‘I can make these big’.”

Working with such materials and at such scale requires fitness and strength, he says.

“It’s getting a bit harder to do now though.”

Originally from Gisborne, Crookes left as a 16-year-old to join the army and has since lived and worked in Rotorua. He has now returned home and brought by truck, trailer and van, his massive steel-works that now inhabit his front yard.

To separate them would be like breaking up a family, he says.

“It’s not run-of-the-mill stuff,” he says.

“The whole thing is a story.”

IRON GARDEN: Former fitter/welder Ihaia Crookes has returned to his home town of Gisborne — and has brought with him his collection of steel-works that now inhabit his front yard. Pictures by Rebecca Grunwell
IRON GARDEN: Former fitter/welder Ihaia Crookes has returned to his home town of Gisborne — and has brought with him his collection of steel-works that now inhabit his front yard. Pictures by Rebecca Grunwell