In his first major exhibition in Auckland in over a decade, American born sculptor Jim Wheeler’s affinity with the natural world is deftly expressed in his intricate bronze sculptures of the native and introduced flora of New Zealand.
Wheeler’s reputation for large outdoor sculpture has been cemented through his inclusion in some of the country’s best-known outdoor sculpture exhibitions and sculpture parks including; Sculpture OnShore, Sculpture on the Gulf, Shapeshifter at the Dowse Art Gallery and the Brick Bay Sculpture Park. His latest exhibition Stalking Nature, to be held at Artis Gallery, will include both large-scale outdoor works, as well as small pieces for inside the home. The title of the exhibition, Stalking Nature, articulates the artists studied observations of plants and his interest in the harmonic relationships between the different species, their lifecycles and the ecosystems that they inhabit.
Born in North Carolina the son of a professional forester, Wheeler describes himself as an ‘amateur botanist’, studying both art and biology at university. After university, Wheeler undertook a two-year apprenticeship based on a renaissance model at The Johnson Atelier, learning the traditional skills of bronze casting. From the beginnings of his artistic career plant-life was a central theme in his sculptural practice, and on immigrating to New Zealand nearly thirty years ago, Wheeler fell in love with the indigenous flora that still manages to occupy much of our countryside.
Jim Wheeler works on a scale that ranges from the intimate to the majestic. Tiny works draw the viewer in to get a closer look; to rediscover the magic resting in a curled leaflet or a kauri cone, while large pieces tower over the viewer, reminding us of our insignificance next to the giants of the forest, and that we should tread lightly in our environment. They entreat us to think about the world around us, to look again at the plants that make up such an important part of our world.
A key theme in Wheeler’s practice is what we, as people, can learn from nature: The core theme for my sculpture is the contemplation of nature and to point out how humans are a part of this whole. I try to illustrate the interconnectedness of all living things and their interdependence within the environment. Nature is our greatest model, a perfected system, and should be seen as a source of inspiration for our own society.
A full-time art practitioner since 1989, Wheeler has been exhibiting for over thirty years, with six solo shows and many group exhibitions both here and overseas. His work is held in The British Museum, London; The Weatherspoon Art Museum, USA; The Auckland Museum; The James Wallace Trust and Zealandia, Mahurangi. A major work, Rata/Pohutukawa Descending, hangs in 280 Queen Street, Auckland.