Bing Dawe engages with pressing environmental issues through his artistic practice. His sculptures point to the impact of urban development and humankind's advancement on native animals and natural habitats. Fish and birds are particularly favoured motifs. His representations inspire contemplation and encourage open dialogue.
Dawe explores the vulnerability of the small while referencing the universal, such as in his Galaxiidae works. Galaxiidae is a family of small native fish, four species of which are our well known whitebait. They get their name from their covering of small spots which resemble stars in the Galaxy.
Dawe explains that these small fish are at risk because of water and habitat degradation. The night sky or view of the galaxy is a way to relate these fish to the universal and to elevate their size and importance and the implication of their loss to a grand scale. The star constellations and their traditional interpretations have also been absorbed and adapted to this New Zealand situation.
An ongoing series A landscape with too many holes, laments the loss of so much of our indigenous flora and fauna. The black steel wedges serve symbolically in a number of ways. As markers in the landscape, like surveying pegs, they reference the claims we make on the land. Their shape also mimics the passing of time (the minutes on a clock face) and forces us to think about the impact we have had in the relatively short time we’ve been here, and the time we have left to make amends. The wedge is also reminiscent of a beam of light which reveals truths, comfortable or otherwise.
In these works the birds are attached to the markers and represented as voids – a visual reminder of presence and absence. Dawe has privileged the saddleback, grey warbler and bellbird in recent works but considers all native birds endangered. He draws attention to their plight in works which uplift the viewer and which sit well within any setting – rustic and domestic, public and private. He has recently completed two major works in this series which are at Tai Tapu Sculpture Garden and Ara Institute of Canterbury.
Dawe's upbringing in Glenavy, South Canterbury, alongside the Waitaki River has sustained a life-long interest and respect for the environment. The Waitaki's bio-diversity and eco systems and the ways in which humans interact with these delicate and self-sufficient series of relationships continue to inform his work.
Since graduating from the University of Canterbury, School of Fine Arts in the mid 1970s Dawe has had over 40 solo exhibitions and participated in numerous group shows. Dawe is one of New Zealand's preeminent sculptors. His work was showcased in a major retrospective at the Robert McDougall Art Gallery in 1999. He is the recipient of a number of prestigious awards including the Wallace Art Award (1999).
Dawe's public art commissions are in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Rotorua. His mid-scale works are held in significant public and private collections both in New Zealand and abroad.