WAITUHI billboard banner, Once upon a (night) time by Wayne Youle
Once upon a (night) time is a large billboard banner artwork by Wayne Youle, commissioned for WAITUHI. This work spans a 30 metre frame on Jervois Quay under the City to Sea Bridge. It comprises 21 panels that take the viewer on a journey through Wayne Youle’s practice that is part autobiographical, part retrospective and full mihi to Youle’s home town, Te Whanganui-a-Tara.
Once upon a (night) time is deeply personal and rich in symbolism. Youle utilises bold, design-based elements referencing but subverting the billboard banner as an advertising format, and drawing on the work of well-known Aotearoa artists from Colin McCahon to Arnold Manaaki Wilson and Rita Angus to enhance his story and emphasise connection to place.
Youle created this work while in lock down during March and April 2020, having just returned from the Sydney Biennale. What was going to be a two-week period of isolation swiftly turned into almost two-months of isolation. Some of the panels reference the impact of this moment in time, from the effect on our environment to the importance of whanau and nurturers in our communities.
The starting point for Once upon a (night) time is an image of the night sky, a quiet image depicting the nine most visible stars that make up the Matariki star cluster above a waka, symbolising early ocean travel, navigation and the journey that Youle was about to embark on to make this work.
From here the work fans out like a deck of cards, an extended concertina of bold, curious images celebrating all that is important to Youle – whānau, genealogy, wahine, discovery, cross-cultural collaboration, history, education, art, design, storytelling and the importance of thinking. The thread that connects each panel is Pōneke – its hills, the sea, people, diversity, and of course its creativity.
The final panel is a self-portrait. Youle’s story and the people who got him where he is today are contained on the record, each white line marking-out a different story. The record is carried on the shoulders of Rodin’s The Thinker – this sculpture symbolising Youle’s creative practice, the act of making of art and how Youle is consumed by it, always thinking about it, about images and storytelling through imagery. This last image is surrounded by small symbols that speak to Youle’s education at Design School and the career path he chose. The symbols are also reminiscent of the Tupperware shape-ball that Youle and his children played with. The five point star has been substituted for an eight point star, which is on the United Tribes flag – a flag that Youle believes could supersede our current one. The skull is a symbol that reappears on and off in Youle’s work and the cross brings the first and last panels together conceptually and aesthetically.