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Robert Onnes: Faces of Diversity


Tue 27 Mar 2012, 10:00am–5:00pm
Wed 28 Mar 2012, 10:00am–5:00pm
Thu 29 Mar 2012, 10:00am–5:00pm
Fri 30 Mar 2012, 10:00am–6:00pm
Sat 31 Mar 2012, 10:00am–3:00pm

Where: Taylor-Jensen Fine Arts, 33 George Street, Palmerston North

Restrictions: All Ages

Ticket Information:

  • Admission: Free

A series of distinctively stylised faces form the centrepiece of the exhibition. Faces of Diversity will be Auckland-based sculptor Robert Onnes’ first solo exhibition and his first in the Manawatu.

The works consist of two ‘ribbons’ which follow the profile of a face and an imaginary line around the side of the face. The face is split in half to accentuate the ribbon quality of the two surfaces. This could be read as left and right brain function or conscious and unconscious minds.

“I’m interested in the structural differences of diverse ethnic groups and how a simple profile can express these characteristics” says Onnes. “Although we become a more homogenised society, we all identify with our cultural origins and much is done to preserve our varied cultures.”

Faces of Diversity will also include a sampling of the small works that have continued to endear Robert Onnes to the art-buying public. Metal sculptures of stylised kiwis, Green-lipped mussel shells and dolphins will grace the gallery alongside the larger ‘faces’.

The development of a work by the sculptor begins with the design process utilising 3D computer-aided design (CAD) to create line drawings which translate into patterns. These patterns are then transferred to a cutting table and the copper is cut with a plasma torch. The shapes are formed by hand until they fit together as designed. The parts are then welded, shaped using angle grinders and followed by further welding and grinding until the edges are clean and sharp. An acid patina is applied and the sculpture is polished with wax.

“The techniques I’ve developed to design and produce this work are hard won. I believe these sculptures are unique in their construction; although they look solid or cast, they are made from copper plate. This constrains the design, giving a distinctive simplicity to the work which displays an earthy, organic quality.”

Raised on a farm in the Waikato, Robert had a keen interest in art while at school. He made a career in electronics and later worked as an electrician and property developer. Onnes attended a summer school course on sketching and oil painting run by Michael Shepherd at Elam in Auckland in 1994 which produced good results. He began making sculpture in 2007 and has shown his work in over twenty group shows. In 2009, Onnes submitted a proposal for a large scale work for the city of Perth, Australia (one of 200 entries) which was the inspiration for this current body of work. A graphic of that proposal can be seen at the exhibition.

Faces of Diversity will be Onnes’ first solo exhibition to be followed by a guest appearance at the Nelson Suter Art Society Autumn exhibition to be held at the Suter Gallery in Nelson. Currently the artist has two 4.5m high corten steel works, Helen and Hana installed in the Sculpture Park, Waitakaruru Arboretum in Tauranga. A photograph of Onnes’ sculpture Heeling on a Breeze appears in the 2012 Artfind calendar; the work is of three gannets with one wing tip in the ground and the other outstretched giving a sense of soaring.

Faces of Diversity: Sculpture by Robert Onnes opens with a public reception from 5:30pm-7:30pm. The exhibition will continue through 31st March.

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