Neil Dawson’s Horizons – A massive yet playful sculpture

Neil Dawson - Horizons, 1994, welded and painted steel, 15 x 10 x 36m, installation view, Gibbs Farm
Neil Dawson – Horizons, 1994, welded and painted steel, 15 x 10 x 36m, installation view, Gibbs Farm, photo: CC BY-NC 2.0 by RobiNZ

The Farm

Like a huge icon-like paper landing gently on a hilltop, Neil Dawson’s Horizons is one of the magnificent sculptures at Gibbs Farm in North Auckland. It is a clever optical illusion made from steel that gives the illusion of a giant windblown piece of paper.

Dawson created Horizons in 1994 for the farm. The Gibbs Farm is an outdoor sculpture collection in New Zealand featuring outstanding artworks to the tune of $450 million.

Interviewed by curator Rob Garrett, the founder Alan Gibbs said1:

We push the limits. No sane person would do what we’re doing.

The farm comprises 27 monumental sculptures created by some of the world’s most renowned sculptors in large sizes, including Anish Kapoor’s Dismemberment2, the biggest piece he created to date.

Not only that, but the farm is private and entry to marvel at the art that dots its ground is absolutely free though rather difficult to get. It’s about 400 hectares in size, picturesque and flanked by Kaipara Harbor on its western boundary. A haven for all art lovers.

Neil Dawson - Horizons, 1994, welded and painted steel, 15 x 10 x 36m, installation view, Gibbs Farm
Neil Dawson – Horizons, 1994, welded and painted steel, 15 x 10 x 36m, installation view, Gibbs Farm, photo: CC BY-NC 2.0 by RobiNZ

Horizons

When it comes to Horizons, it is not possible to think of the sculpture separated from the artist. New Zealand sculptor Neil Dawson is renowned for his mostly large-scale public sculptures playing with illusion by focusing on lines as well as positive and negative space.

His site-specific sculptural works are closely tied to the environment, seeming whimsical and dramatic. Horizons is no less whimsical. It is a combination of illusions, simplicity and perception perched on a hill to take on different views as the day passes and the environment changes.

Like a lot of Neil Dawson’s pieces, Horizons began as a free-hand sketch before being welded and painted steel that looks like it could be as light as a feather. Measuring an impressive 15-meters in height and 36-meter length, it is located on one of the farm’s highest points and seems free – like it just might tumble downhill at any moment.

Neil Dawson - Horizons, 1994, welded and painted steel, 15 x 10 x 36m with Zhan Wang - Floating Island of Immortals, 2006, stainless steel, 4.8 x 8.6m, installation view, Gibbs Farm
Zhan Wang’s Floating Island of Immortals, 2006, stainless steel, 4.8 x 8.6m, in the background: Neil Dawson’s Horizons, 1994, welded and painted steel, 15 x 10 x 36m, installation view, Gibbs Farm, photo: CC BY-NC 2.0 by RobiNZ

It is almost impossible to tell that Horizons is made of welded steel when viewed from afar. It looks lightweight and playful and can be seen from the road when driving by Gibbs farm like a massive piece of steel paper that playfully rises to the sky as if opening up another horizon after the horizon.

It was inspired by the horizon and Dawson makes it seem like one can spot the giant piece of ‘paper’ floating towards them when they gaze towards the horizon on one of the highest hills in the sculpture park.

The playful intermingling of different forms, all rich with associations, makes the sculpture one impressive piece that has lasted through the decades and continues to be an important piece of sculptural art.

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The artist

Indeed, Neil Dawson’s largescale pieces, which are site-specific and mostly created using aluminum, fiberglass, plastic or carbon fiber, have always been ephemeral.

Speaking about the importance of public art, Dawson said in an interview with Stuff3:

You have to have public art around you to learn about it. It is about your experiences. Artworks in public spaces may appear to be invisible to many – but that does not matter. They still get into people’s lives. They get people to do things.

He is ambivalent when it comes to galleries, believing that they do not make art accessible and also remove art viewers from the reality of their environment, something which should not be separated from the art pieces.

As such, Horizons and other works of Dawson that have been publicly commissioned are according to Dawson’s own creativity without the constraints that a gallery offers. Thus, Horizons embodies this without question.

Neil Dawson - Horizons, 1994, welded and painted steel, 15 x 10 x 36m, installation view, Gibbs Farm
Neil Dawson – Horizons, 1994, welded and painted steel, 15 x 10 x 36m, installation view, Gibbs Farm, photo: CC BY-NC 2.0 by RobiNZ

Footnotes

  1. https://www.gibbsfarm.org.nz/essay.php
  2. https://publicdelivery.org/anish-kapoor-dismemberment/
  3. https://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/christchurch-life/art-and-stage/visual-art/69112855/neil-dawson-on-public-art-in-christchurch

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