Parked on the carpet just inside the door to my city apartment is a little bronze sculpture by Scott Eady. Shaped like the icon designating the truck lane on the motorway, its bright red bodywork gleams fire-engine red, testimony to the longevity of many coats of fast drying nail lacquer. It’s a hardworking sculpture that’s been on duty for over a decade in this position, instantly recognisable as coming from a territory that the artist staked out as his own soon after graduating from Elam with an MFA in sculpture in 1999. Embodying the daily tussle between masculinity and femininity that plagues metrosexual life, this red truck suffers no performance anxiety. You can manoeuvre it with your foot to hold the door open when you head to the roof with a basket of washing or use it like a silent doorman to welcome dinner party guests while you deal with catastrophes in the kitchen. Very occasionally a visitor might trip over it or stub a toe on it, but that’s because they haven’t seen it for what it is – a work of art – and shown it due respect. Those who do greet it with delight –“A Scott Eady!”– and so I have come to think of it functioning like the Hogwarts’ sorting hat, dividing those who like their sculpture conceptual (but still to have been handcrafted by the artist) and everybody else.
Eady has kept on trucking out his sculptural ideas for nearly a quarter of a century now, playfully traversing the territory of kiwi subcultures from macho big boys’ toys to elegant haute couture. During the 1990s, his work showed how cracks in the veneer of Man Alone’s rugged individualism could be comic. By the turn of the century, the heroics of being a family man superseded Scotty the singleton. A move to Dunedin occasioned by his Frances Hodgkins Fellowship year in 2002 introduced the Drizabone-clad southern man and the wife-beater-wearing bogan as challenges to Eady’s city slicker sensibilities. His studio’s location dropped him into the crotch of the city’s sofa-burning laddish drinking culture. Lampooning the sexual innuendo of the frat-house-type names that Dunedin student flatmates bestowed on their rented flea pits – Greasy Beaver Lodge, Hooter’s Bra and Grill, Cock and Swallow – he conjured sculpture out of smut: a series of illuminated signs with a literal depiction of each signifier. Shown at both the Blue Oyster Art Project Space and the Hocken Library (where the Beaver entered the collection), the exhibitions cemented a place for him as the country’s leading exponent of social commentary sculpture.
Fashion-forward Dunedin got the Eady critical treatment in a solo exhibition at the city’s public art gallery the following year. While holidaying with his wife in Central Otago, Eady discovered that a Naseby farmer with the unlikely name of Eden Hore had invested the proceeds of each year’s wool clip on amassing a collection of 276 fabulous frocks handpicked from the annual Benson & Hedges Fashion Awards. The juxtaposition of tractor and tiara was irresistible, and the exhibition Honeymoon on the Pigroot (2003) was the result. A mannequin dressed in a swanky Nicholas Blanchet suit led an oversized pink My Little Pony down the catwalk in a parody of the rough and ready archetypal Southern Man and pack horse renowned from the advertising for the local brew, Speights beer.
As well as having an eye for the peculiar and the prissy, Eady has always been keen to emphasise the importance of the everyday and the world of children in his work. The last decade has seen him moving away from mold-making and casting to deploying found objects such as clothing and bicycles. For the exhibition Play Off (2011), staged in rugby-mad Dunedin, he secured sponsorship from Adidas for the supply of All Blacks’ jerseys which were given to exultant children to be worn. Highlighting the role our national rugby team performs in making heroes to be worshipped out of the ordinary men that are the players, the exhibition probed the implications for men, the children and the culture generally. In 2011 Eady extended this flirtation with participatory practices, fixing up a load of Rockets, Torpedoes and Apollos for kids to pedal around on at the Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt. Enjoying the pun that he was “recycling” the concept, the work was completely remade with Korean bicycles for the 100 Bikes Project (2012) for the 9th Gwangju Biennale in Korea, where they were a spinning success.
Eady continues at the top of his game, working internationally with invitations to participate in the “art Olympics” (the Venice Biennale) and prestigious overseas residencies. For Personal Structures at Venice in 2013, Eady took inspiration from the children’s modelling clay Fimo for his sculpture entitled Calciami!. Blobs cast in bronze then coated in viscous paint, Calciami! invited viewers to a bruising with Post-It notes affixed that read “Kick Me” in Italian. Recently returned from a residency in Russia, Eady’s latest work is a response to the environment of Vladivostock under Putin. It’s his most sophisticated work to date, juggling themes of masculinity and child’s play with more sinister asides about surveillance and militarisation. Venturing into textiles and short film to convey the history and context of a place, he riffs off his own back catalogue of toys and trompe l’oeil, continuously gesturing to the insistence and persistence of objects.
Essay by Linda Tyler
BORN: 1972, Auckland
EDUCATION: Master of Fine Arts (1999), Bachelor of Fine Arts (1994); Elam School of Fine Arts, The University of Auckland
COLLECTIONS: Hocken Pictorial Collections, The University of Otago Library, Dunedin; Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington; The Chartwell Trust, Auckland; The James Wallace Arts Trust, Auckland; Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Dunedin; Eastern Southland Gallery, Gore; Artetage Museum of Modern Art, Vladivostok, Russia; New Zealand Honorary Consulate, Vladivostok, Russia
SELECTED PUBLIC EXHIBITIONS: Good Morning Vladivostok, Artetage Museum of Modern Art, Vladivostok, Russia, (2016); Undreamed Of… 50 Years of the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Dunedin (2016), Ridiculous Sublime, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Dunedin (2016); The Beginning Starts At The End and Calciami!, Sydney Contemporary, Sydney (2015); Activating Te Uru: Inaugural Opening Exhibition, Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery (2014); Calciami!, Personal Structures, Palazzo Bembo, La Biennale, Venezia (2013); Auckland Art Fair, Auckland (2013); The Obstinate Object, City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi, Wellington (2012); 100 Bikes Project: Gwangju, The 9th Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju (2012); 100 Bikes Project: Part 1, The Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt (2011); Scott Eady Survey Exhibition, The James Wallace Arts Trust, Pah Homestead, Auckland (2011); Play Off, Blue Oyster Art Project Space, Dunedin (2011); Headlands Sculpture on the Gulf, Auckland (2011); Hetro Horror, Dunedin School of Art Gallery, Dunedin (2010); Lost at the Bottom of the World, Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare O Rehua, Whanganui (2010); A Generous Eye, The Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt (2008); White on White, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna O Waiwhetu, Christchurch (2008); EXISTENCE: life according to art, Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga O Waikato, Waikato (2007); Clean Machine, Gus Fisher Gallery, University of Auckland, Auckland (2007); OFFSIDE, St Paul St Gallery, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland (2007); The Back Boot Project, Blue Oyster Art Project Space, Dunedin (2007); Op Shop, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Dunedin (2006); Summer Daze, Auckland Art Gallery Toi O Tamaki, Auckland (2006); Scott Eady and Ryan Moore, Blue Oyster Art Project Space, Dunedin (2005); Honeymoon on the Pigroot, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Dunedin (2003); Signs, Hocken Pictorial Collections, Dunedin (2003); Telecom Prospect 2004, City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi, Wellington (2003); International Art Fair and Cake Stall, Blue Oyster Art Project Space, Dunedin (2003); Talking Back, Hocken Pictorial Collections, The University of Otago Library, Dunedin (2003); Wallace Award Travelling Exhibition, (2002); Signs, Blue Oyster Art Project Space, Dunedin (2002); Past Presents, Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington (2001); The Big Bang Theory, Auckland Art Gallery Toi O Tamaki, Auckland (2002); That’s Entertainment, The Physics Room, Christchurch (2000); Let Them Eat Cake, George Fraser Gallery, Auckland (2000); White Kangaroo, with Gregor Kregar, George Fraser Gallery, Auckland (2000); Drive - Power>Progress>Desire, Govett-Brewster Contemporary Art Museum, New Plymouth (2000)