Artist Jeff Thomson is well known for his corrugated iron sculptures, especially his elephants and cows. One corrugated iron beast a little different from the others is Thomson’s HQ Holden – a 1974 Holden station wagon clad in corrugated iron.
Although this car originally had a motor and was driven around, the motor has now been removed and the aerial bent into the shape of Australia, the Holden’s country of origin.
Thomson first had the idea for a vehicle clad in some kind of material, which he describes as ‘a whimsical thought that never left me’, while travelling on a train in Germany. He noticed that the roofs of many houses in Germany were covered with slate and tiles, and he was determined to clad a vehicle on his return home.
Six months later, back in New Zealand, Thomson went on a recycling mission to the rubbish dump, where he found rusty sheets of corrugated iron that had originally come from the roof of the Criterion Hotel in Napier, which had been gutted by fire on Halloween night.
Thomson lovingly plated his own car with corrugated iron, transforming a functional item into a work of art. He curved the corrugated iron sheets to hug the shape of the vehicle, then riveted them on.
Thomson did not put his HQ Holden into a gallery straight away, but drove it around on the open road, both in New Zealand and Australia. It was his only vehicle for three years, and he carried all his rusty corrugated iron on the roof.
The car was later transported to Australia, exhibited in Sydney, and driven around. ‘This mobile artwork has been seen all over New Zealand roads and is a traffic-stopper. Everywhere it goes it attracts crowds who marvel at its skilled use of materials and originality: “Hey! A moving fence!” (1). ‘Art at 50k an hour’ (2).
Thomson first started working in corrugated iron when decorating letter-boxes, following his many walks around rural New Zealand. He created a number of animals, mainly cows, for his letter-box series in hardwood and corrugated iron. He then started making corrugated iron animals, including penguins, elephants and cows followed by other objects such as people and typewriters!
Corrugated iron is a distinctively New Zealand material and Thomson uses it extensively. A popular artist with a great sense of humour, Jeff Thomson pokes fun at New Zealand icons and puts them in the spotlight, making us look at them in a whole new light.
(1) Perry, John F. (1992). Foreword/Four Words: the corrugated iron man in Jeff Thomson: any old iron. Brimer, Richard. editor. Auckland: Icon Publishing. np.
(2) Barr, Jim and Barr, Mary. (1992). Jeff Thomson: cutting a fine figure in Jeff Thomson: any old iron. Brimer, Richard. editor. Auckland: Icon Publishing. np.
Text originally published in Tai Awatea, Te Papa's onfloor multimedia database (1998).