Our Wellington

News | 4 March 2021

Massive artwork gets delicate spruce-up

You’ve probably seen them – in fact, they’re pretty hard to miss.
They are bright, bold, and have proudly graced the foyer of the Michael Fowler Centre since it opened in 1983.

A large textile artwork by Gordon Crook being cleaned.

These 10 massive textile artworks each measure a whopping 7 by 7 metres. 

The unique tapestries are the work of Gordon Crook, a dynamic Wellington artist working across the fields of ceramics, textiles, printmaking, painting and drawing. 

And now the impressive works are getting a careful clean by art conservators to keep them looking vibrant for future generations of art lovers and concert goers to appreciate.  

The work comes on the anniversary of two significant events for Crook – it's been 100 years since his birth in 1921, and a decade since he died in 2011. 

Wellington City Council’s City Art Collection Registrar Laura Woodward is managing the work, as part of the Council’s Gordon Crook Textile Conservation Project. 

A large textile artwork by Gordon Crook being cleaned.

Conservator Manon Dudouet of Studio Carolina Izzo.

She says Crook designed 12 colourful banners and 10 enormous wall hangings between 1981 and 1983 for the newly built Michael Fowler Centre, under the theme ‘Definitely Wellington’.

These 22 massive textile works have become icons of Wellington’s artistic culture and heritage and have helped ignite interest and appreciation of textiles as an art form.

“And it’s easy to see why, they are vibrant, joyful and a little quirky. They exude the energy of all the concerts and crescendo inside the auditorium, and being at the foot of Cuba Street they reflect the life happening outside too. They are definitely Wellington.

Made of New Zealand wool, the wall hangings and banners at the Michael Fowler Centre will progressively be receiving specialist cleaning and conservation by experts in their field, she says.

Artwork by Gordon Crook hanging in the Michael Fowler Centre.

The hardest to reach of those were given a spruce up recently, with conservators coming in to clean the works via a set of scaffolds especially set up for the process. 

Getting the scaffold into the challenging spaces was one thing, and finding a specialist vacuum long enough to reach all the fabric was another. 

The painstaking and dedicated work was completed last month by art conservation company Studio Carolina Izzo.  

The rest of the textiles are next on the list, with the long narrow banners near the upstairs landing to be removed and cleaned later in the year. 

Laura says that fans of Crook’s work “tend to be super fans”.  

“He was in the first show to open City Gallery Wellington in its current location in 1980 and they held a retrospective of his work in 1993. Page Blackie Gallery also held a celebration of his work in 2013. There was even a documentary made about him. 

A large textile artwork by Gordon Crook being cleaned.

“Personally, I know a number of young local artists who are keen on his work, so it’s still really resonating with people. 

“The MFC works are monumental in scale with an obvious inspiration being the famous cut-outs by 19th century French artist, Henri Mattise.  Of course, Crook was an expert. He taught textile art in London for 20 years before emigrating to New Zealand for a quiet life. When you look at the artwork he made here, it is anything but quiet!

“Generations of Wellingtonians and visitors have passed these artworks on their way to a concert or event. They are part of the fabric of the building. We are taking this opportunity to celebrate and appreciate Gordon Crook’s contribution to Wellington's cultural scene."

 

About the artist

Gordon Crook (1921-2011) was a visual artist working across the fields of ceramics, textiles, printmaking, painting and drawing. For twenty-two years he lived in London, teaching at the Royal College of Art, and working as a freelance designer.  

He was a private man, who didn't particularly enjoy the social scene, and in 1972, at the age of 51, he moved to New Zealand to pursue a quieter life. 

Here he produced a rich and vast quantity of work in a wide range of media all reflecting his daring skill with materials and design.  

An innovator working outside many of the boundaries between art, craft and design, he created his own distinctive world of symbols, images and style using abstract and figurative elements.  

As a tapestry maker of international calibre and an excellent printmaker, Crook achieved international recognition and has important commissioned artworks in Washington, Tonga, Samoa and Mexico.