Strong exhibition for Taranaki artist at Govett Brewster

Taranaki artist Fiona Clark’s latest exhibition showcases local figures, including renowned Opunake bodybuilder Quentin Smith.

Opening at Govett-Brewster Art Gallery this month Raw Material is a careful selection of unedited or untreated elements from her own extensive archive.

The exhibition includes photographs from her bodybuilding series, first exhibited at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in 1981.

As part of her exhibition Clark has been researching and tracking down people who are connected to her photographs.

This included appealing to the Opunake community for related materials on the 1958 Mr New Zealand, Quentin Smith that she could show in her exhibition.

Growing up in Opunake, Smith was a naturally gifted swimmer and surfer, whose interest in physical strength and fitness led him to pursue weightlifting and body building in his teens.

He quickly became a regular fixture at local fairs and carnivals, such as the Opunake Carnival Colossal, where his feats of strength were captured in issues of New Plymouth Photo News.

At age 20 he won the Mr New Zealand contest, and in 1959 went on to compete in the Mr Universe contest at the London Palladium, representing the best in bodybuilding. He retired from bodybuilding contests shortly after at 22 years of age.

Clark, who is a leading figure of New Zealand photography, is known for her intimate photographs that explore issues around the representation of marginalised and under-represented communities.

She grew up in Taranaki and as a student at Inglewood High School she found an interest in contemporary art under the tutelage of Leon Narbey. Narbey was a renowned cinematographer and the first artist to exhibit at Govett-Brewster Art Gallery at its opening in 1970.

In Raw Material, Clark starts from her personal records of her own prolific and varied archive of creative practice, and asks what it means to work in an archive that is built on personal connections, and on objects that summon and remind her of those people and relationships.

Visitors to the exhibition will also see images of the artist herself, as a dancer and in past personas as an art student, her aunt’s hockey mate Valerie Deakin, who went to choreograph at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and prominent dancer Da Katipa.

Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre co-directors Aileen Burns and Johan Lundh said a key role for the gallery is to support the work of Taranaki artists.

They said they were delighted to be exhibiting Clarke’s work nearly 40 years after her first exhibition.

Captions (L-R): Mr. New Zealand Quentin Smith, 1960. Photo by Royale of London, private collection. Fiona Clark Pan Pacific Womens’ Body Building Championship posing, Auckland 1981. Courtesy the artist and Michael Lett.