Unique exhibition by master of kōwhaiwhai painting to show in Porirua

By Jessica Tyson

Described as one of the most significant and respected Māori artists of his generation, Dr Sandy Adsett is set to have his first major retrospective exhibition in Porirua.

Adsett is acknowledged for championing the art of kōwhaiwhai painting, creating a context for the art form within the development of contemporary Māori art. He has only ever had two solo exhibitions, but that is about to change with the new exhibition called Toi Koru at Pātaka Art+Museum from late July to early November.

The exhibition traces Adsett’s painting practice from the late 1960s to today and features 60 paintings created over six decades. It includes artworks from our foremost public collections as well as a new painting series created especially for this exhibition.

Dr Sandy Adsett.  Photo Credit / Te Wānanga o Aotearoa

Exhibition curator and director of Pātaka, Reuben Friend, says Adsett, of Ngāti Kahunguna and Ngāti Pāhawera, is the grandmaster of contemporary Māori design.

“Adsett had a huge influence on the graphic identity of contemporary Māori art and commercial design. Artists such as Reuben Patterson, Ngatai Taepa and Johnson Witehira are part of the creative continuum that flows on from Adsett’s legacy.”

Adsett was born in 1939 on the family farm in Raupunga, a small Māori settlement just north of Wairoa. He received his formal art training from the renowned Ngāti Porou master carver Pine Taiapa (1901-1972). Many of the insights offered by Taiapa are shared by Adsett in Toi Koru.   

In the mid-1990s, Adsett became one of the co-founders of Te Toihoukura School of Māori Art and Design in Gisborne and has been the principal tutor at Toimairangi School of Māori Art in Hawke's Bay since 2003.

Sandy Adsett, Kahurangi, 1988. Acrylic on board. Collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

Artist Elizabeth Ellis says Adsett is one of the most significant and respected Māori artists of his generation.

“His work is revered as taonga of great significance … He is nevertheless our best-kept secret, having never sought the spotlight. His work as a Māori artist and educator has always been concerned with lifting the mana and wellbeing of his community. Now, it’s our turn to acknowledge him.”

There will be a public blessing for the opening of Toi Koru, with art demonstrations and talks throughout the day of July 31. An exhibition of art made by Adsett’s past students, Ahi Toi, will also take place alongside the main exhibition.

Cultural theft of Māori art is alive and well - Te Ao November 2019

The fight to protect toi Māori continues as tauiwi take on our art for their own use. Tohunga artist Sandy Adsett attended the world art gathering at Turangawaewae Marae and says the fight is against cultural theft.