Bill Culbert was less interested in the minimalist language of fellow “fluorescent” Dan Flavin and more connected to the conceptual footprint left by Dada. His life, spread as it was between two geographical poles, two landscapes, two differently illuminated worlds meant that his own practice was destined to straddle contradiction – the found and the finessed, the poetic and the conceptual, the light and the dark.
Born in Port Chalmers in 1935, Bill Culbert divided his time between London, Croagnes, France, and New Zealand.
Predominantly interested in light – he dedicated his life to a profound, poetic investigation of it. “My primary exploration is about light – light-marks in space or light-in-light, light in darkness, night-light, daylight, those kinds of things just intrigue me.” Illumination and shadow, transparency and reflection work together in the most powerful of his works. He used naturally available light, the sun and all its iterations, and when he wanted light to pour out of objects from where it could not exist, he turned to the controllable light, fluorescence, and incandescence, both new and old technology.
Bill began incorporating the found object into his work in the 1970s. New, recycled – and readily available utilitarian elements. Corrugated iron, florescent tubes, window frames, glass and plastic bottles. Suitcases, chairs, lamps, wood, and metal. Tied to his concerns for the environment, materials were collected and accumulated until needed, and he delighted in the ability of ordinary things to capture the imagination, to transcend their original uses, and to spark our interest. Often humorous, always beautiful.
Culbert had his first solo exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery, London in 1977 and participated in the first Auckland Triennial in 2001. In 2013 he represented New Zealand in the 55th Venice Bennale, with an installation entitled Front Door Out Back. Permanently commissioned Culbert sculptures may be found in London, Wellington and Auckland. Amongst his most notable collaborations were his explorations with Ralph Hotere, (Aupori). With one of the most beloved, Fault, a rip of light, permanently installed on the façade of the City Gallery, Wellington.
He was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to art, particularly sculpture, in 2008. Bill passed away at his home in Provence in 2019, 3 years after this wife, the artist Pip Culbert.
Bill has been called on of the ‘most singular and significant contemporary artists from the late twentieth century’, and Fox Jensen McCrory is humbled and honoured to be representing him in New Zealand, and beyond.