Born in 1946 in Kawakawa, Aotearoa. Attended Wellington Polytechnic School of Design in 1963, Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland in 1964/65 and Chelsea Art School, London in 1979.
King began focussing on sculpture in the mid-1980s, and has worked in Hinuera stone, bronze, aluminium, stainless steel, earth and wood. Underlying her practice is a concern for the environment, a passion for words and an interest in history and micro-organisms, all of which inspire and inform her work. Her work evolves through the equally stimulating and variously alternate experiences of exhibiting in galleries and creating site-specific work to be placed directly into the environment. In 1995 she created a series of floating works and she has since undertaken several private commissions in which she has designed ‘bridgeworks’ and walkways across swamps – one, Raupo Rattler, with percussive devices producing sound that intensifies at a central point along the route – and earth-based landform sculptures.
King’s sculptures have ranged from domestic scale to the monumental. They have an organic feel and often contain shapes cut-out from their surface, a distinctive device she uses to accentuate the positive and negative spaces of the medium. Many comprise different sections which have been joined by hinges, wooden pegs or woven twine. This technique harks back to ‘artist’s books’ she made in 1982, with thin wooden leaves for pages, and was also used in floating works such as ‘Am I Telling Lies’, 1995, based on words by Mohi Tawhai, an extract from the Treaty of Waitangi.
King has used quotations from poets Federico Garcia Lorca, T S Eliot, Octavio Paz and Hone Tuwhare, from American environmentalist Rachel Carson and from historical sources. She has created suspended works (for hanging on walls or from ceilings or trees), works to be floated at the mercy of the tide, or to be freestanding, intricate artist’s books and altar pieces.
Her public commissions include the Rewarewa Creek footbridge in Waitakere City, the Tree of Life sculpture at Auckland’s AUT foyer, Nikau Vessel (a 5.5m high aluminium/stainless steel sculpture) in Hastings CBD and Reed Vessel, a 6.5m x 18m stainless steel sculpture incorporating flowing water, mist and poetry, among recreated wetlands in the Melbourne Docklands. Collaborative works include the concept design of the Mission Bay footbridge, and the Waitakere City Aquatic Centre. There are three videos available on the work: Passage (1995), Styx (Sticks) (1997) and Antarctic Heart (2001).
In 1998, King participated in the opening exhibition of the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre in Noumea and her Limpet-Shrine won the Jane Campion Memory Award for Site Specific Sculpture at the Cultural Olympiad, Sculpture by the Sea, Sydney. She was awarded an Artist to Antarctica Fellowship in 1999, the same year the Whangarei Art Museum presented ‘Tideline-Sculpture: a ten year survey’ on her work. King does commissioned work and exhibits regularly in solo and group shows nationally and internationally.
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Art New Zealand 70 ‘Booked & Bound to It: ‘Opening up the Book’ at Manawatu Art Gallery’, Gregory O’Brien, 1994
Art New Zealand 75 ‘Feeling Foxed: Art for the Environment in Waitakere City’, Paul Judge, 1995
Art New Zealand 77 ‘Rivers Beneath Rivers: The Sculpture of Virginia King’, Paul Judge, 1995
Another 100 New Zealand Artists, Warwick Brown, Godwit Publishing, 1996
Art News, Spring 1997
Contemporary New Zealand Sculpture, Priscilla Pitts, David Bateman, 1998
Tideline: A Ten Year Survey/Exhibition Catalogue, Whangarei Art Museum, 1999
Antarctic Heart (exhibition catalogue, funded by Artists to Antarctica Fellowship), 2001
Urbis magazine, edition 19, Autumn 2003
Virginia King Sculptor, David Bateman Ltd, Auckland, 2005