Out of the guest speakers who talked at our industry symposium I have decided to write my reflection on the two artists I found most interesting and inspirational. These were Jeff Thomson and Phil Walters.
Phil Walters has been an Industrial Designer since 1984 after he switched to studying Industrial Design from Architecture. Walters got his first design job while in Amsterdam after being on an OE in Europe. It was with a company called Princler, where he stayed for three years doing small design projects on products. Through this he gained exposure to some of the big design companies and went off to start his own design business D3D, which operated from 1992-2004. Through this company Walters created many ATM surrounds and developed a sub-company called Interlock Industries who created door handles, these door handles ended up becoming popular enough to make a yearly revenue for Walters. From there Walters left and decided to work for Lexicon from 2004-2009 as their Design Director. They mainly created signage in a business that was worth around 50 million. Through Lexicon Walters did a lot of the main work for Vodafone, designing all their benchtops and display units, as well as doing rapid prototyping of other stores in warehouses. Lexicon then did the main launch for Apple’s IPhone in NZ, using a sewer pipe for the pedestal when the pedestal was too expensive and the wrong height to ship to NZ, this was Walters design and ingenuity. In 2010 Lexicon fell apart and Walters worked in making modular rooms for three years. Then in 2013 Retail Dimension was created. It was a company that was essentially Lexicon and Walters began to work for them. He mainly created work for Vodafone, 2 Degrees, Sony and Z Gas in this time. Walters next did some work for BP, creating the bins at the gas stations that had posters on them. These bins became a huge earner for the company as they could gain extra revenue from marketing the posters on those bins. After his extensive career in design Walters took a break and decided to create his own project. He began making 2D metal silhouettes of native New Zealand birds and nailing them into trees around Ponsonby and the CBD fringe at night. The birds started gaining a lot of attention from the public so Walters created a website to meet the demand. In 2011 he took the idea to Australia and began selling native birds there. He recently launched the birds in Europe where he is now selling 600 thousand a year. More recently he has started the business as a fledgling in America, working with his old design tutor to help build the business. Metal Bird is now Walters successful full time job.
I gained a lot of inspiration from having Walters talk to us. The main things that I took away from his talk was how even if he had no experience in the area he wanted to go into, the previous skills and knowledge gained from his other experience would be enough that he could use those skills and learn the rest. I also learnt that while it is good to have a wide and varied career it is also good to always do something you enjoy and that you can be just as successful creating something yourself as you can be working for a business giant. I found his advice on making sure we build our experience and that it is essential that we network and develop a base that we can step out onto after Uni extremely useful and something that I wish to apply to myself so that I am prepared. I thought that Walters work ethic and drive applied to how I want to practice and I aspire to have a career as successful as his.
Jeff Thomson was another speaker at the symposium. When I found out he was speaking I was incredibly keen to hear what he had to say as I have grown up around his works (my uncle has had a commission in his garden since I was about five) and I have seen a lot of his other works in exhibitions and around West Auckland. I have a lot of respect for Thomson as an artist as I know how successful he has been throughout NZ and enjoy his work. Thomson started by taking us through his career and work throughout while giving us bits of advice on things we can do and the process he has. Thomson studied at Elam and struggled through the written part of the course as he was dyslexic and always had been better at drawing. After three years at Elam he decided he had had enough and went to the South Island. While he was down there he did a lot of long walks such as one from Dunedin to Christchurch. During these walks, he became quite interested in roadside paraphernalia and was thinking about how he could make a living while doing something he loved. He decided to drop flyers out in letterboxes advertising that he could design things for on top of people’s letterboxes. This was during the 1980’s. After his first drop he only got two or three replies out of three hundred flyers. However, when he decided to take more out he began talking to the people at the residences about what he was trying to do. This time he managed to make around 80-90 sculptures for people and from there the interest in his art continued. He was commissioned to make some animals for someone’s garden, working in old corrugated iron. The director of the Pa Homestead saw these animals and commissioned Thomson to make a fence of elephants for between him and his neighbour. Thomson had them put in Albert Park before they vanished privately and the elephants gained a lot of attention, with some being thirty feet high. This kick-started his career and soon after this he found a bending machine that helped him to experiment with making curves in the iron. From here Thomson kept experimenting with things he hadn’t done before as well as constantly creating commissions to make a living, one of his points was that up until he had a comfortable living he never said no to a commission and always tried to get his work out there. He showed us several of his notable works such as both displays at Sculpture on The Golf Waiheke, where he curled iron down a hill and made a woven, coloured iron mat across a glade. Others were a series of life size horses and a 6m high Giraffe for the Gibbs farm, a group of 3m high kangaroos commissioned for the Canberra Airport, the gumboot in Taihape, the iron covered station wagon that was housed in Te Papa, the woven iron house exhibited at the Botanical Gardens sculpture exhibition, Wearable Arts, for which he made an iron dress in a lace pattern, and the borders of the motorway for highway 16. Thomson walked us through each work and explained his process with the metal and the ideas he had throughout. Essential through his projects was always the need to make a living out of his art, so even though he has done some public art, it wasn’t until recently that he started saying no to commissions that he had no interest or motivation to complete.
I found it fascinating that he has managed to have a hugely successful career over the last thirty years and become one of New Zealand’s most influential sculptors while always working and staying in one medium. One of his points to us was that he is always looking for inspiration and that there is always another way to bring something new to what you’re doing. Another point that I found inspirational was that he kept motivation through all those years, even doing things he didn’t want to do to keep his practice going and continue gaining recognition. I think I could apply most of his talk to my practice as his points all resonated with me and I felt that his points about motivation and always continuing with your work and exploring possibilities and different options within your medium is something I can take from that. As well as having the motivation to make your own career and being the driving force behind it.