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. 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 demigod. 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 form on the right might refer to the fish or to Māui. 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.
 Maria de Jong and Fred Graham, Fred Graham: Creator of Forms: Te Tohunga Auaha (Te Whanganui-a-Tara: Huia Publishers, 2014), 30.
Fletcher Trust Collection, purchased from Gow Langsford Gallery, Tāmaki Makaurau, November 2021
Private collection, Australia, gift of the artist (as a wedding present), 1965