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Guy Ngan 顏國 鍇 (1926 – 2017) was a prolific artist based in Stokes Valley, Lower Hutt who was passionate about making art that could connect us more with our surroundings and each other.

Guy Ngan: Habitation considers how notions of place and belonging influenced his expansive practice, which was grounded in his Chinese heritage, his home in Te Moana nui a Kiwa (the Pacific), and his studies across Aotearoa New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Italy.

The artist’s impressions of his childhood in Guangzhou, China, can be seen in his brightly coloured screen prints infused with the gestural brush work of guohua (classical Chinese painting). Similarly, his painting Celebration (2008) from his Middle Kingdom 中國 series uses Chinese characters to reflect his pride in China.

Living as an adult in Aotearoa New Zealand, Ngan formed an affinity with the local landscape, particularly coastal rock formations and native bush, which were frequent destinations of family trips. In this exhibition, you can see the influence of native bush in the lush green painting Waoku No. 2 (1973) that responds to Mount Taranaki and its surrounding area, and panels from the large-scale public mural Forest in the Sun (1976), a collaborative textile he created with Joan Calvert for the Beehive.

Ngan was well known for making public sculptures and murals nationwide. He believed that “buildings should reflect our feelings” and one of his biggest inspirations was modernist architecture, which developed during his time in London in the 1950s. A discipline that continues to impact us today, modernist architecture can be reduced to a simple idea—making uncomplicated spaces that respond to people’s habits and needs.

Both Ngan’s two and three dimensional works are like visual translations of such spaces, particularly his Habitation sculptures. Ngan has made over 200 of these, each one carved from polystyrene with hot wire to create contrasting angles and curves before being cast in aluminium or bronze. With the appearance of miniature buildings, they are inspired by Roman ruins, Chinese calligraphy and shapes carved out of rocks by the ocean.

In response to Ngan’s influences, Kingsley Baird, a professor at Massey University, former apprentice and friend of the artist reflects:

“Guy was intensely interested in humanity, including the migrations of peoples across the globe throughout history and, primarily, what links them, culturally and genetically. I believe his Habitation series is an example of his interest in places occupied by people.”

Bringing these components together, Guy Ngan: Habitation shows the artist’s unique approach as a Pacific Chinese person, and what his perspective can tell us about Aotearoa New Zealand’s increasing diversity.

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