Llew Summers: Body and Soul
Llew Summers: Body and Soul depicts the work and life of one of New Zealand’s most recognisable sculptors, a man of great warmth and astonishing vitality, whose works are daring, sensual and provocative. Between April and June 2019, Llew recorded 95 interviews with John Newton and these, as well as a very extensive photographic and documentary archive, form the basis of this wonderful book, celebrating his life and achievements. John takes us from Llew’s beginnings as a self-taught artist, through his relationships and family life, to his success as a highly visible sculptor with works found in public spaces throughout New Zealand and held in collections here and internationally.
We follow his progression as an artist, a true independent, working outside the hierarchies of the art world. His early monumental works in concrete made him a public fixture, with themes of nurture and nature, sexuality and solidity seen in his idealised female forms. As he discovered carving in wood and marble, the work became more subtle and increasingly dynamic. From the early 2000s, following his first trip to Europe, religious imagery entered Llew’s work in ways that extended both his visual and thematic range, and introduced a more overtly spiritual element. His later career features depictions of Christ, angelic winged figures and large, ambitious works in bronze.
Illustrated with more than 200 photographs, including newly commissioned images, Llew Summers: Body and Soul is a joyful record of a life in sculpture and a testimony to the value of public art.
Llew Summers: Body and Soul, by John Newton,
is published by Canterbury University Press with the support of Creative New Zealand
Notes on some Large-scale Works
In 2012 Llew made a large bronze, Encircling the Baroque (now installed on the Piazza in Timaru) comprising a circle of life; four human bodies flowing in a circle. Returning to his other major preoccupation – wings – either solitary, on angels, horses or, more conventionally, on birds, he scaled up the smaller work, Birds of a Feather which was first carved in wood, and later cast in bronze, into another circle of life – this major bronze work: Peace.
The critic John Ruskin wrote: "For nature is all made up of roundnesses, not the roundness of perfect globes, but of variously curved surfaces. Boughs are rounded, stones are rounded, cheeks are rounded, and curls are rounded; there is no more flatness in the natural world than there is vacancy. The world itself is round and so is all that is in it, more or less, except human work which is often very flat indeed." (The Elements of Drawing). No such charge can be levied here – Peace is a work that speaks of the plump roundness of that avian symbol of love and peace: the dove, within a large circle of roundness.
Doves are most often associated with the concepts of pacifism and civil peace, and Llew was a pacifist, coming from a family with a heritage of pacifism; his mother was imprisoned during the Second World War for demonstrating against the war when it was illegal to do so. It is natural then that this trio of birds is emblematic of his belief in peace as the greater, and only, solution. As with Picasso, the work takes a stand for life against death and for peace against war.
Peace is a 2-tonne bronze measuring 2650x2100x1400mm.
It is currently exhibited in Colombo St, Christchurch.
This powerful and semi-abstract work began as a homage to the albatross, that most legendary of birds. It does not attempt to be literal; it is simply a bird in flight, with all of the attendant symbolism. It carries the burden of its own legends, and offers to carry us with it.
Flight (2018) is a large (2200 x 850 x 750mm) bronze, with powerful wings emanating from strong shoulders, suggestive of the ease with which the albatross can fly over very large stretches of ocean, carrying its message, its questions, its dreams of landfall. . .
Wings have become an integral part of much of Llew's work over the last decade or more. His winged forms suggest the spiritual dimensions of existence, ever more important in our increasingly secular world. With these wings he asks us to consider uplift, transformation, and transcendence, while at the same time this work can be viewed purely as an elemental ode to the magnificent solitary voyager, the toroa / albatross.
The work is currently being exhibited at the Tai Tapu Sculpture Garden.
Wings often, but not always, attached to bodies, are an integral part of most of Llew’s later works. In Heaven Sent the slightly stylised nature of the wings contributes to its overall form being in the shape of a cross.
Llew’s primary artistic interests and concerns were twofold: the sensual or real physicality of the body and the spiritual aspect of humanity. Neither is subjugated to the other in this work rather the two aspects are melded and in balance. Like any work its interpretation is properly left open to the viewer but it can be viewed as the soul flying down to meet the body. Another viewer might see the lower figure of the male looking (or aspiring) to heaven. In an alternative interpretation of this idea, the male could even be calling to his muse, or the combining of the male and female spirit.
Heaven Sent is around 2200x1100x600mm and is cast in bronze.
Ariel is a further development of Llew’s fascination with winged forms; both for their simple beauty and for their angelic – or spiritual – resonance. In this case it is the sheer beauty of the wing form – abstracted from its connection to a body – that has been the starting point for its creation. Ariel , a character in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, is a spirit of the air – and this wing, though unattached, or detached, from a bird or angel requires air to bring it fully to life, to become aerial / airborne, to enable it to fly. Extremely tactile and of magnificent stature, it seems ready and capable of flight. It wants to soar and is a metaphor for humanity which, without air, cannot exist and which also aspires to rise above the earthly to connect with its spirituality.
The work is 2300x1700x66mm and is cast in bronze.
Ariel is currently being exhibited at the Tai Tapu Sculpture Garden.
The Power and the Glory
The earthquakes that devastated large areas of Christchurch in early 2011, not only shook up the ground, but altered many people’s perceptions of life and its stability. For many it was the most tangible experience of the knife-edge that is life and coming face to face with that has led to some deep-seated trauma. In a flight or fight response, some have left the city and the country, while others demonstrate their resilience by riding the waves of the thousands of aftershocks and getting on with their lives as best they can. For an artist this obviously includes trying to respond to the disaster and create art that somehow deals with it.
In this symbolist work, Llew portrays nature as a horse, towering over a small human, and poised on hind legs ready to crush, if not the man, at least the earth. The man stands his ground, looking up in amazement. The beauty of the horse defuses the otherwise overwhelming fear and there is awe in the contemplation of the sheer force of nature unleashed. The man’s hands are slightly outstretched – are they ready to embrace, or just firmly fixed in a stoic gesture waiting for the inevitable? The horse’s rounded belly is echoed by that of the man and they are thus connected as fellow creatures who inhabit the same environment.
The Power and the Glory was carved in wood, before being cast in bronze and is approximately 625mm high.