11 Aug 2016

Artist needed accident to 'trigger a refocus'

6:44 pm on 11 August 2016

An accident that left him paralysed also set David Cameron on his life path, with the Gisborne-based artist winning this week's Arts Access Artistic Achievement Award.

Artist David Cameron

David Cameron spent 12 years painting the kowhaiwhai patterns on the Te Poho o Hiraina Marae in Gisborne. Photo: Supplied

He initially didn't see art as a career option, until a fall from a first-floor balcony left him paralysed when he was 19. During the months of rehabilitation he gravitated to his first love of art - while it had been a subject he'd enjoyed at school, it never crossed his mind that he could do it as a job.

"I'd been artistic at school. But art wasn't seen as a career pathway in those days. So I concentrated on going out to work and earning money. It was only after becoming paralysed that I came back into the fold of practising art.

"It had always been a natural skill of mine, but it just needed an incident in my life to trigger a refocus."

That focus started during occupational therapy when he carved a leather handbag. Since then he has worked in painting and ceramic, and spent 12 years painting the kowhaiwhai patterns on Te Poho o Hiraina Marae in Gisborne.

"My 12 years of involvement was preceded by about five years before I came along. My experience there helped form the person I am today and the artist I have become. It was a privilege being able to work on that house."

Gisborned-based David Cameron at work.

David Cameron at work Photo: Supplied

He has been heavily influenced both personally and artistically by other Māori artists such as Baye Riddell, Wi Taepa and Manos Nathan.

"I was very impressed with their work and how easily they seemed to be able to create forms. I aspired to that art form, the three-dimensional aspect of it. With clay being three-dimensional it gave me the chance to pursue sculpture."

He said there was sometimes a tension between what was considered traditional Māori art and contemporary forms.

"What we call traditional Māori art today, in its heyday it would have been contemporary art. I'm still taking knowledge from wharenui and channelling it into my art."

While he works in a number of mediums, clay and leather remain at the core of his work.

"Clay is one of my favourites."

The judges of the award said: "David's decoration of the whare Te Poho o Hiraina has brought huge mana to David and his community. His commitment, passion, achievements and contribution to mahi toi shine like a beacon across Aotearoa New Zealand."

Arts Access Aotearoa advocates for New Zealanders who experience barriers to participation in the arts and both creators and audience members.

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