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Hon Christopher Finlayson presents the Arts Access Artistic Achievement Award 2014 to Robert Rapson

Ceramic artist awarded one of his trophy creations

31 July 2014
Ceramic artist Robert Rapson, who has made the trophies for the annual Arts Access Awards for the past four years, has received one of his trophy creations: the Arts Access Artistic Achievement Award 2014.

Robert learned he was the recipient when he returned home to the Hutt Valley in late June after three months travelling in Europe and North America.

Robert Rapson's Beehive teapot in Parliament's art collectionThe judging panel described Robert as a “clever, quirky and self-taught artist” and said the award acknowledges his “unique voice and contribution to New Zealand art”.

After recovering from jetlag, Robert was back to work at Mix, a creative space in Lower Hutt that provides artistic opportunities for people with lived experience of mental illness. Robert has dealt with long-term clinical depression and says being able to work from Mix, as well as from home, is a key to his mental wellbeing.

The trip “refreshed” him and supplied him with “lots of new ideas”. He was, however, glad to be home and feeling content with everyday life in the Hutt.

Painting the award trophies at Mix before they were glazed, Robert talked about his travels. “When I was 20, I set sail on an Italian passenger liner called the Angelina Lauro. It took five weeks to get to Europe but now, you watch a few movies and you’re there. It’s all very convenient but you don’t get a sense of the journey and how far you’ve come to get there.”

An obsession since childhood

Anyone who knows Robert’s work will be familiar with his ships – a motif that has been an obsession for him since childhood, inspired by his father who worked for the Harbour Board. He also recalls farewelling his mother when she sailed to Canada on a passenger liner.

A ceramic ship by Robert Rapson“I’ve made quite a few versions of the Angelina Lauro. It was a good-looking ship and I have a special affection for it because it was my first trip away by myself.”

Robert uses a range of mediums, including pastels, acrylic, oamaru stone, watercolour and wood carving. But his ceramics have gained the most attention.

Along with ships, he makes ceramic cars and planes, as well as multi-piece installations that might include mermaids, wind surfers, swimmers and fish. “I make anything that captures my imagination. I don’t do anything practical like tableware. Just things for people to look at and enjoy.”

Top ceramics prize

Last year, Robert won New Zealand’s top ceramics prize, the Premier Portage Ceramic Award, for his multi-piece installation called Himalaya Serves the World 1949–early 70s.

Canadian judge Amy Gogarty said that one of the lovely aspects of Robert’s work was the quality of his painted surface. “He configures vivid childhood memories with imagination and wit, creating a vibrant tableau that invited engagement … His capacity to fully conjure up this improbable scene, to tap into collective fantasies of far-off places and celebratory events using the most direct and expressive of means deserves my highest recognition and respect.”

Robert Rapson at Mix in Hutt CityWinning the Portage Ceramic Award was a “nice surprise”, he says. “Sometimes as an artist, you’re producing stuff and you wonder how the art world perceives it. This showed my work being taken seriously and acknowleged by an international artist and judge.”

Robert’s work has gained international recognition and has been exhibited around the world, including at the New York International Outsider Art Fair, the Creative Growth Centre in Oakland, California, Galerie Impaire in Paris, the King St Gallery in Sydney and Quadrant Gallery in Dunedin.

His work has also been collected by influential art figures such as Robert Starr, the former director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Asked about his 20-year career, he adds another brush stroke to a trophy and says: “It’s just what I do. There have been many highs and lows, and none of the awards have gone to my head. You just have to believe in what you’re doing.”

Ceramic artist awarded one of his trophy creations

 
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