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Object: Lawn cuttings

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Title Lawn cuttings
Production Driver, Don (artist), 1976, New Plymouth
Medium summary galvanised iron pipe and chain, aluminium, coir matting, wood, paint, cotton duck and leather
Materials duck, leather, wood, coir, iron, aluminum alloy
Classification sculpture, assemblages
Technique assemblage, sculpture techniques
Dimensions Image: 2230mm (Height) x 3965mm (Length) x 200mm (Width/Depth)
Credit line Purchased 1980
Registration number 1980-0007-1

Lawn cuttings is a major work, one that represents a significant turning point in Don Driver’s career. Large, confident and ambitious, Lawn cuttings features a dilapidated coir mat, salvaged from the floor of a tent, suspended over a galvanised pipe structure Driver had made for the work. To this he added a stained canvas grass-catcher, a wooden roller, a stencil plate from his old job at Tingey’s paint and art supplies shop, and friend Leon Narbey’s string-laced shoes. The used doormats sewn onto the coir mat backing were stealthily acquired in the dead of night: these worn items were diligently replaced with new ones so as not to leave the owners wanting. Driver completed the umber landscape by draping a long rusty chain over it. Brought together, these disparate pieces form a totem-like whole, a homage to the New Zealand quarter-acre section and the rituals of its weekend maintenance.

The magic of a work like Lawn cuttings derives from Driver’s intuitive and hands-on approach: he collects and arranges, responding to and working up a composition out of the material, rather than setting out to illustrate an idea. In his assemblage works, Driver’s juxtapositions of forms, textures and colours charge common objects and materials with mystery and power. Lawn cuttings marks Driver’s return to assemblage after a period working with relief paintings, such as Horizontal no. 2, in the early 1970s. He abandoned these relief works partly as a result of his frustration over the damage that kept occurring to their delicate surfaces.

Driver has a longstanding fascination with the formal and fetishistic properties of traditional African and Asian art, and has collected a number of Asian sculptures: he is particularly attracted to their raw power and dynamic forms. At the same time, Driver is keenly aware of contemporary Western art, and his early assemblage works have a strong affinity with Robert Rauschenberg’s ‘combines’, and with the aesthetic of the Italian arte povera movement and its use of humble organic and industrial materials. Lawn cuttings has been described as Driver’s Les demoiselles d’Avignon — the instance where the artist welds these two artistic traditions into one powerful, transformative, evocative whole.

Charlotte Huddleston

This essay originally appeared in Art at Te Papa, (Te Papa Press, 2009)

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