Born 1946 Wellington Te Arawa, Ngati Pikiao, Te Atiawa
Wi Taepa was a display artist before he enlisted for the New Zealand Army and served in Vietnam. He later worked in security, in the penal system and the Department of Social Welfare. In 1983 he was involved in the carving projects at the Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, and the Orongomai Marae, Upper Hutt. He followed this with a period of study in craft design at Whitirea Polytechnic and has been a tutor there since 1993.
As a student he worked with a number of media, including clay, which offered him a welcome level of freedom. It contrasted with the tight specifications usually imposed when he carved stone or wood. His imagery evolved from his Maori heritage: the designs of the past and listening to historical narratives fed his fertile mind. Whakapapa (genealogy) provided the content, and he honored this by revisiting early styles of working.
Taepa enjoys reclaiming and transposing little-known processes to his clay work. One of the techniques he uses is punch marking, which is an old way of working that evolved from notching in very early Maori carving and is only occasionally seen. He looks to the way curvilinear lines were created without stone chisels, and replaces very basic tools like sticks with contemporary man made tools. The simple stick marks are replicated with an egg slice or a ballpoint pen, and patterns are rolled as if onto fabric. There are references to rolled color and punch marks in the Lapita pottery traditions of Samoa, and Taepa is keen to explore any possible connections between Maori carving and Lapita pots.
His works are hand built and unglazed. Taepa likes to work very fast to capture the spontaneity of his first thoughts. He recognizes that clay is not a medium which can be wholly controlled. He likes to let the colors from the earth emerge during firing as they do in nature – not just the red, white and black associated with Maori art, but a broad color spectrum that includes maroons, the silvers and greys of trees as well as the colors of animals, sea and plant life.
His earliest forms in clay referred to utensils like gourds and pieces of weapons. The asymmetrical growth rings of trees like kanuka inspired their surface treatment, and the forms were made slightly off-centre to personalize them. Some of his forms come from Maori ceremony, but by expanding the scale of them the way the viewer engages with the work changes. He is able to present a different viewpoint. An example is a huge feeding funnel which would be used in order not to break the tapu (taboo) imposed when moko (traditional tattoo) is applied. He also makes canoe forms that evoke how Maori came to New Zealand.
The beautifully detailed, doughnut shaped work Ipu (vessel) was created for Uku! Uku! Uku! At the International Festival of the Arts, Wellington, 1998. So too were a number of sculptural pieces like boundary pegs. In the past Maori would define boundaries with groups of stones or carved pieces of wood. Taepa created minimalist, faceless works in clay that evoked these markers – like god-sticks. They are a shift from his earlier, more easily recognized figures: here the stance or shape of the head gives viewers clues, yet allows them to tell their own stories.
2001 Works in Ceramics and Bronze, Glenn Green Galleries, Santa Fe, New Mexico
2000 Father and Sons , “Chip off the Old Block” Pataka , Porirua Opening Exhibition Kura Gallery, Wellington
1999 “Rim of Fire”—Pataka Porirua Museum of Arts and Culture “Nga Korero Aotearoa” – Dowse Art Museum Kura Gallery, Taupo “Clay Te Pai” Geoff Wilson Gallery Whangarei BFA Graduation Exhibition Wanganui
1998 4 Exhibition—4 Workshops—clay, stone, bone
“Uku-Uku-Uku” New Zealand Festival of the Arts Page 90 opening of the new Porirua Art Centre Research production manager- “Uku-Uku-Uku” New Zealand Festival of the Arts James Wallace Gallery, Auckland Exhibitions- “Haka” Bath, England Exhibitions- San Francisco, USA CHACDS Conference- Palmerston North 1998 Whitirea Polytechnic – Certificate Adult Teaching—Accelerated Learning Certificate Resident Artist Mentor – 1994-98 Wanganui RC Polytechnic
1997 Exhibitions 8 workshops -- Clay, Stone, Bone Te Papa Tongawera Dowse Art Resource Center Research for New Zealand Festival of the Arts Exhibition Major Sculpture Porirua City Arts
1996 Workshops 8 Exhibitions -- 3 Major Exhibitions: “Patua” City Art Gallery, Wellington – International Festival of the Arts 7th Pacific Festival of the Arts, Samoa “Kupenga” stone Symposium, New Plymouth 2 Solo Exhibitions
1995-6 1995 6 Workshops – workshops – clay, 7 exhibitions Guest artist – NZ Potters Conference Guest Artist – Bishop Suter Gallery, Nelson Invited Artist—International Symposium of Contemporary Indigenous Visual Arts Major Exhibition – Zimbabwe National Art Gallery, Harare, Africa Research trip – Brisbane, Bangkok, London,Rome,Paris, Nairobi, Zimbabwe
1994 10 Workshops – Clay, stone 6 Exhibitions – 3 Major “NZ Choice” Rancho Santiago College, Santa Ana, USA Contemporary Maori Art Exhibition – International Festival of the Arts “Kurawaka” – 5 Maori clay workers—Dowse Art Museum