Untitled (Te Ika-a-Māui)

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Wood and copper
415 x 1470 x 65mm

Fred Graham drew and painted sporadically throughout the 1950s, while working as a teacher and ‘art adviser’ in Te Ika-a-Māui, or the North Island. His interest in sculpture was sparked while he was living in Manawatū, where he lectured in art at Palmerston North Teachers’ College between 1957 and 1962.[1] This carving was likely produced between 1963 and 1965, while Graham was working as an art teacher at Tauranga Boys’ College. During this time, he developed a strong interest in pūrākau, Māori histories or narratives, and these began to inform his work to a considerable extent.

Although this piece is untitled, its subject is known. It represents the fishing up of Te Ika-a-Māui by the eponymous hero. Real-world elements are discernible: the tail of the fish (which is also fishhook-like), mountains, a bird. At the same time, there is considerable abstraction. The righthand side of the work can be read as both the head of Māui in profile (his mouth suggested by the U-shaped form) and the head of the fish. A painting from 1970, titled Te Ika a Māui and featuring more immediately legible forms, is at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. Wall-based carvings that also centre on pūrākau include Ngā Tamariki o Tangaroa (1970) and Māui Steals the Sun (1971), both in private collections.


[1] Maria de Jong and Fred Graham, Fred Graham: Creator of Forms: Te Tohunga Auaha (Te Whanganui-a-Tara: Huia Publishers, 2014), 30.

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Fletcher Trust Collection, purchased from Gow Langsford Gallery, Tāmaki Makaurau, November 2021

Private collection, Australia, gift of the artist (as a wedding present), 1965