Christchurch-born Llew Summers held his first exhibition in 1971 and over his long career held more than 50 one-man shows and participated in numerous group shows. He passed in August 2019 but remains one of Christchurch’s most visible artists, due to his large scale works in public places. His nude sculpture has often caused controversy, including his 2005 carved relief series depicting the 14 Stations of the Cross installed in Christchurch’s Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.
Primarily figurative, Summers’ works range in size from monumental concrete sculptures over two metres in height to small-scale sketches in clay. He worked across media: wood, concrete, clay, marble, bronze, stone and lead crystal. Summers delighted in the human form, in all its shapes and guises and in humanity itself – our loves, losses, triumphs and foible. Human and animal figures dance, tumble, embrace and take flight. In The Power and the Glory the small figure of a man stands resolute, in fear and in awe, beneath a towering horse which represents the Christchurch ‘quakes and thus the unstoppable forces of nature. The bronze boasts a rich circular-like patina which lends the work further dynamism.
Summers’ interest in religious and visionary art manifested in generously-proportioned angels and winged forms; both serve as universal symbols of spirituality rather than pointing to any one faith. The wing is a particularly potent symbol which recurs in his work; his angels are often portrayed armless, emphasising the power and significance of the wings. The Burden of Wings is a particularly beautiful recent example. This work evidences Summers’ joy in direct carving with the natural qualities of the marble enhancing the curve of the wing and investing it with a grace that belies the solidity of the medium.
Summers was the recipient of a number of awards including the BNZ Art Award (1984), the BP Art Award (1989), and the Arts Excellence Awards (1997). His large scale works are held in public and private collections throughout New Zealand including Auckland Botanic Gardens, BNZ Bank Art Collection, Christchurch City Council Collection, Lincoln University Collection, Sarjeant Gallery, and the Waikato Museum of Art and History. His smaller scale sculptures grace homes and galleries here and abroad. He was an amazing character, avid and informed reader, art collector, passionate and generous friend. He is greatly missed.
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