Francis Upritchard: Paper, Creature, Stone
Francis Upritchard: Paper, Creature, Stone was an exhibition that featured sculptures made from balata rubber extracted from the Amazon rainforest.
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Francis Upritchard. Stick Workers. Christchurch Art Gallery, 2021
Francis Upritchard: Paper, Creature, Stone was a solo exhibition by New Zealand artist Francis Upritchard. The exhibition displayed figurative sculptures made from balata rubber; found textiles; ceramic works; and watercolours. Francis's work is often inspired by stories, mythology, materials and objects she encounters in countries such as Brazil and Guatemala.
Francis created many of the artworks with other artists, craftspeople, experts and friends. These include Taranaki potter Nicholas Brandon, Brazilian balata craftsman Darlindo José de Oliveira Pinto, London-based glassblower Jochem Holz, Ōtautahi fashion designer Steven Junil Park and Wellington jeweller Karl Fritsch.
Some of Francis’s artworks are made from balata rubber, which is extracted from Manilkara trees found deep in the Amazon jungle. The process of extracting balata is difficult and highly controlled. It must be done during the three-month rainy season and each tree can be tapped only once in eight years. The rubber is packed into cubes and floated out of the jungle on a river.
Francis first came across balata figurines at a craft market in 2004, while she was a resident artist at Belem Contemporary Art Flux in Brazil. She now obtains her supply of balata from Darlindo, who she has worked with for over 15 years. Darlindo is a recognised specialist in balata craft and received a UNESCO handicraft excellence award in 2012. In 2021, Francis imported about 300 kilograms of rubber from Brazil; according to Darlindo, she is the only person who works with balata outside the rainforest.
Balata is costly and difficult to handle, so few artists use it. While it is malleable when warm and soft, it hardens quickly and becomes "unruly", so the material sometimes dictates the final form of Francis's sculptures. Francis also experiments with making larger balata figures and casting them in bronze.
Francis created Francis Upritchard: Paper, Creature, Stone in 2020, when she was the inaugural recipient of the W A Sutton House artist in residence, set up by Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, University of Canterbury Ilam School of Fine Arts and the Sutton Heritage House and Garden Charitable Trust. The exhibition was shown in Christchurch in 2022. Her other work has been exhibited in Europe, New Zealand and the US, and is held in public and private collections in New Zealand and overseas, including the Saatchi Gallery.
In 2006 Francis won the Walters Prize, which is New Zealand's most prestigious contemporary art prize, and in 2009 she represented New Zealand at the Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition.
Published 02 November 2023
"In Brazil, I fell in love with the balata work of a local artisan called Mr Darlindo, and he showed me how he works with this material. He still supplies me with balata – raw, untreated rubber straight from the tree."
2 April to 7 August 2022