In these times, which are like no other, Paul Dibble in his Palmerston North studio has continued his artistic practice, focusing inwards to develop works themed on the beloved lost Huia, a subject that has occupied him for nearly a decade.
The Huia has become something of a personal symbol for the artist. These birds were last seen in the Tararua ranges in 1907, a geographical site not so far from Dibble’s studio, where the hills embrace one border of the Manawatu. Huia are also emblems of treasures lost and in these artworks they are teamed with large kowhai flowers gilded with 24 carat gold sheet, the mix of bronze with its rich brown patina and the lustre of gold making them sensuously beautiful articles.
The models play with forms, with the birds balancing on branches or propped on rectangular frameworks almost suggesting the construction of architecture and cities that are soon to come. The precarious nature of some of their postures suggest a degree of vulnerability. But overall, it is a lyrical, happy quality that is portrayed as though the birds are at play. Collectively as an exhibition it becomes a paradisal garden, with bright golden kowhai (quite literally) and a plethora of birds perched, looking over their shoulders or in daydreamer mood. These Huia are not concerned about the guns of Buller, or of losing feathers to line wakahuia boxes. Rather they are relaxed and happy in a time of plenty.
In this exhibition two works have been scaled into the biggest of these studies ever made, one towering to nearly 3 metres in height. A Final Courtship shows a pair, seemingly unaware of the danger to come. Gone But Not Forgotten - the giant and namesake of the show - portrays a lone bird sitting as if it were a guardian overlooking a scene. This could be a bird themed version of the famous sculpture by Goya when a figure looked on at the scenes of war, or even of Dibble's own human figure made in the early years of 2000 (Giant Male Figure After Goya). Its monumentality lends a solemn air as if in mourning; this bird is the sage that understands the loss to come.
Fran Dibble, November 2021