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Inspired by tradition

Deep down, Poutu Puketapu (Ngāti Porou) is a traditionalist, although you might not think so looking at his latest exhibition.

Coming off the back of his master's studies at Toihoukura, EIT's School of Māori Visual Arts, Puketapu's art now graces space at Hoea! Gallery, bringing the worlds of traditional and contemporary Māori art together.

“Being a young fulla on the marae I was always intrigued by the carvings. They drew me in and I would stand there for ages just looking at them,” Puketapu says.

Through his connections to Paerauta, Te Mātahi-o-te-Tau and Rāhui marae on the East Cape, Puketapu would copy, draw and repeat the carvings he saw growing up.

It was only because of his studies at Toihoukura that he started to blend the old with the new.

“My eyes are drawn to the traditional, but going to a contemporary art school I had to be able to dive into that contemporary area.

“I wouldn't have been able to take a leap into a different medium of artwork.”

As an early artist, he focused on drawing and painting before starting to work with stone and wood.

The exhibition is called Mai e te pō, which is a dual show between Puketapu and Michelle Kerr.

Puketapu says his work discusses the transition between light and dark.

“Most of our historical stories about our atua (gods) talk about that transition. And I suppose we can relate to it almost on an everyday basis — going into a new job, experiencing new things. It's about being in a learning state.

In the centre are two clear sculptures and one wooden one, which were created as part of his master's studies.

The wooden sculpture has a clear link with the traditional ideologies, whereas the clear sculptures — made of resin — focus on different ways of learning.

“I've used resin as a way of projecting light. I never would have tried that if it wasn't for the master's programme. I would have stayed doing wood.”

Although he is drawn to tradition, his contemporary style work reflects the world we live in today.

“Some people may disagree with it but I had to push myself.”

Puketapu says some might think modern methods and materials might clash with tikanga for a carver.

Although he is not interested in rocking the boat, he doesn't want to stagnate.

“It's the same thing with art. The people who stir the pot often inspire the next generation.

“You have to adapt to the day and age you live in. There's artists where they don't even touch a chisel, they draw on an iPad and put it on a computer for the 3D printer.

“But it's still of the idea of traditional art, it still carries the same aesthetics.

“We live in an age of technology, so why can't we go into those spaces?”

Puketapu says the key is balance. If an artist is using a traditional art form it is important to acknowledge its roots.

“The importance doesn't lie within the aesthetics or the physical object, it lies within the kōrero and the stories that are attached to it.”

We are already living in a changed world, Puketapu says.

“Traditionally we didn't have tattoo guns. The period of time it took to complete something was ten times the amount of time it took to use a tattoo gun.

“It's the same thing, you have to move with the age.

“The goal is to keep the art form alive, to help make it normal again.”

In 2016 he started an apprenticeship in tā moko, traditional tattooing, under Mark Kopua.

“It's been a journey through artforms. It has been cool to have these different mediums, not being stuck with just one.”

It was the carvings in his marae that started his creative path, and now it is the sculptures around Te Tairāwhiti, like Te Maro looking down from Titirangi, inspiring his art.

MODERN MAORI ARTIST: Painter, carver, ta moko artist and more, Poutu Puketapu works in many mediums bringing together traditional styles with new modes of creation. Picture by Paul Rickard