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Guy Ngan (1926–2017)

Author: Courtney Johnston, Director

The Dowse marks the passing of New Zealand artist and local resident Guy Ngan, whose public artworks shaped so many of New Zealand's cities, including our own.

Guy Ngan, Kahikatea Carving No. 7, 1976. Collection of The Dowse Art Museum, Dame Doreen Blumhardt Collection

Guy Ngan, Kahikatea Carving No. 7, 1976. Collection of The Dowse Art Museum, Dame Doreen Blumhardt Collection

Guy Ngan, Marquette for bronze sculpture;

Guy Ngan, Marquette for bronze sculpture; "Habitat" series, 1978. Collection of The Dowse Art Museum, Dame Doreen Blumhardt Collection

Guy Ngan, 'Homage To John Dalton', circa 1970. Collection of The Dowse Art Museum, purchased with the assistance of the Hutt Art Society 1972

Guy Ngan, 'Homage To John Dalton', circa 1970. Collection of The Dowse Art Museum, purchased with the assistance of the Hutt Art Society 1972

The Dowse notes with sadness the death of artist and Stokes Valley resident Guy Ngan.

Locally, Ngan is probably best known for his two iconic public sculptures in Stokes Valley—the early Jaycees commission in 1976 Two Worms Mating and its companion piece Elevating Worms, commissioned by the E Tu Te Awaikairangi Trust in 2001.

But Ngan's paintings, drawings, designs, sculptures, prints and interior architecture are spread far and wide throughout New Zealand, embellishing and enlivening many of our cityscapes. As curator Heather Galbraith wrote of the influence of his work:

Hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders—many of us unwittingly—have been exposed to Guy Ngan's work over the last fifty years ... The public works for which the artist is best known are not just in big cities, but are dotted through smaller towns from Invercargill to Auckland.

Through his art Ngan explored his long-held fascination with the history of early settlement in the Pacific, and his own place and identity in this part of the world. Trained as a designer and artist, his work is characterised by strong, sweeping lines and tactile forms, expressed equally through massive relief murals and public sculptures (like the bronze sculpture that adorns the Reserve Bank building) and more intimate carved wooden forms. In the 1970s he collaborated with weaver Joan Calvert on a proposal for a commission to produce wall-hangings for Parliament's Beehive building: the six panels, each 2.4 metres square, took 18 months to produce and were installed in 1977.

Born in Wellington in 1926 to Chinese parents, Ngan spent much of his childhood in China, returning to New Zealand to study. His art education included the Wellington Technical College Art School, Goldsmith’s School of Art, London University, and the Royal College of Art, London. On his return to New Zealand he became a public art works consultant at the Ministry of Works for four years, then moved on to Stephenson & Turner Architects, where he worked from 1960 to 1970. From 1970 he largely devoted himself to making art.

Ngan made many contributions to the arts in addition to his own art practice: he was director of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts from 1976 to 1986, a council member of the New Zealand Industrial Design Council, a council member of the National Art Gallery (now Te Papa) and vice president of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts. He was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 1983 and inducted into the Massey University College of Creative Arts Toi Rauwharangi Hall of Fame.

The Dowse holds a number of works by Guy Ngan in our collection, and one of these will be on display in our foyer from this week. We extend our condolences to Guy's wife Jean, their children, grandchildren, wider whanau and friends.

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