Artist Jeff Thomson is well known for his corrugated iron sculptures, especially his elephants and cows. One corrugated iron beast a little different from the others is Thomson's HQ Holden - a 1974 Holden station wagon clad in corrugated iron.
Although this car originally had a motor and was driven around, the motor has now been removed and the aerial bent into the shape of Australia, the Holden's country of origin.
Thomson first had the idea for a vehicle clad in some kind of material, which he describes as 'a whimsical thought that never left me', while travelling on a train in Germany. He noticed that the roofs of many houses in Germany were covered with slate and tiles, and he was determined to clad a vehicle on his return home.
Six months later, back in New Zealand, Thomson went on a recycling mission to the rubbish dump, where he found rusty sheets of corrugated iron that had originally come from the roof of the Criterion Hotel in Napier, which had been gutted by fire on Halloween night.
Thomson lovingly plated his own car with corrugated iron, transforming a functional item into a work of art. He curved the corrugated iron sheets to hug the shape of the vehicle, then riveted them on.
Thomson did not put his HQ Holden into a gallery straight away, but drove it around on the open road, both in New Zealand and Australia. It was his only vehicle for three years, and he carried all his rusty corrugated iron on the roof.
The car was later transported to Australia, exhibited in Sydney, and driven around. 'This mobile artwork has been seen all over New Zealand roads and is a traffic-stopper. Everywhere it goes it attracts crowds who marvel at its skilled use of materials and originality: "Hey! A moving fence!" (1). 'Art at 50k an hour' (2).
Thomson first started working in corrugated iron when decorating letter-boxes, following his many walks around rural New Zealand. He created a number of animals, mainly cows, for his letter-box series in hardwood and corrugated iron. He then started making corrugated iron animals, including penguins, elephants and cows followed by other objects such as people and typewriters!
Corrugated iron is a distinctively New Zealand material and Thomson uses it extensively. A popular artist with a great sense of humour, Jeff Thomson pokes fun at New Zealand icons and puts them in the spotlight, making us look at them in a whole new light.
(1) Perry, John F. (1992). Foreword/Four Words: the corrugated iron man in JeffThomson: any old iron. Brimer, Richard. editor. Auckland: Icon Publishing. np.
(2 )Barr, Jim and Barr, Mary. (1992). Jeff Thomson: cutting a fine figure in Jeff Thomson: any old iron. Brimer, Richard. editor. Auckland: Icon Publishing. np.
Some of the following publications may be found on the Discovery Centre bookshelves, or in Te Aka Matua Library and Information Centre on Level 4. Photographs of Te Papa collection items may be ordered from Images, on Level 4.
Brimer, Richard. editor. (1992). Jeff Thomson: any old iron. Auckland: Icon Publishing.
Buckland, Susan. (1993). A Heritage of Iron. Pacific Way 61 : May.
Other New Zealand sculptures made from recycled materials in Te Papa's collection
HQ Holden station wagon 1991 by Jeff Thomson, New Zealand made from heavy gauge corrugated iron Purchased 1996 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds.
But is it warranted?
Though Thomson's HQ Holden was an artistic success, and created a lot of interest when he drove it around New Zealand and Australia, making it legal was not without its difficulties. Like all motorists, Thomson had to get a warrant of fitness in order to drive his car on the open road. In New Zealand he checked with the authorities, who informed him he could clad his car and still get a warrant provided the iron cladding did not protrude past a certain length, that there were no sharp edges, and that it did not restrict the driver's vision.
Thomson successfully gained a warrant in New Zealand but getting one in Australia proved much more difficult. Rust caused a problem, not so much the rust on the corrugated iron, but on the main body of the car.