Untitled (Te Ika-a-Māui)
c.1965, 415 x 1470 x 65mm, Wood and copper
Fred Graham was born in Arapuni but grew up in Horahora, on the banks of the Waikato. From 1948 to 1950, he trained as a primary school teacher, first at Ardmore Teachers’ College, south of Tāmaki Makaurau, and later at Ōtepoti, where he specialised in art. In the 1950s, as part of the Tovey Scheme, he worked as an arts adviser to Māori primary schools in Rotorua and Te Tai Tokerau Northland, while painting and teaching himself to carve. In Te Tai Tokerau, he worked alongside Ralph Hotere and Muru Walters, who became important friends. His circle would later include artists such as Elizabeth Ellis (née Mountain), Mere Lodge, Paratene Matchitt, Cliff Whiting, and Arnold Manaaki Wilson.
Graham is particularly well-known as a sculptor, and he has undertaken numerous important and large-scale commissions. For instance, sculptures of his adorn Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and the Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira. His work combines aspects of Māori artmaking and thinking with Western modernism. He often pares back or abstracts customary forms. In 2017, he received Te Tohu Aroha mō Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu (the Exemplary/Supreme Award) in Creative New Zealand’s Te Waka Toi Awards. The following year, he received an Arts Foundation Icon Award Whakamana Hiranga and was named an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit. He is the father of Brett Graham.