The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The artworks created by Ricks Terstappen could be regarded as the epitome of Aristotle’s aphorism.

Strolling through the streets of Hawke’s Bay it would be impossible to miss the statuesque structures that stand tall in such social centres as Napier, Hastings and Havelock North. Significant art statements of the kind some observers may regard as controversial – until they stop, stare, and study their aesthetic. 

Some are the creations of Ricks Terstappen, recognised as one of the foremost contributors to shaping the artistic landscape of the Bay … and the region’s expert in the Found Art movement. 

Ricks Terstappen

It’s an art form with both critics and acolytes. It certainly calls for controversy, mainly because some consider it to be an overt and crude way of challenging pre-existing notions of art. 

It blatantly confronts what connoisseurs regard as the norm – not only in art but often also in society. Its implementation by the likes of Picasso, Marcel Duchamps, and latterly Robert Rauschenberg and Damien Hirst have helped the form gain acceptance. 

Ricks’ own work is an exploration of scale and form and often colour. And demands attention. Time to contemplate the thought behind. That may be whimsical, wry, even wicked; it can also be a political statement. Or a poke at tradition. 

Undisputed however is the fact his creations are a result of deep conceptual thought which plummets the superficial to produce work full of hidden meaning. Much like Ricks himself who upon initial meeting offers a kind, humble and genial impression. Do not be fooled. It’s camouflage – yes, he is all of those things – but beneath there also lies a caring, charismatic and incredibly creative talent. 

His name conveys his origins. Born in Venlo, Holland – number two child of a family of seven children – art played a role from childhood: an influence from his very artistic father. Ricks discovered his talent early. From the age of ten he began using found objects to create. But at the age of 17 – pretty much at a loose end as to ‘what next’ in his life – he walked into what he assumed was a travel agent. The window displaying cowboys sitting round a campfire suggested to him a wonderful place for a holiday. In fact, it was an emigration office for New Zealand. “The officer said I’d be an ideal candidate – young, fit – a perfect farm hand. I liked the sound of that and filled out the forms. First time I was refused as I had no trade. So, I did a short stint on a farm – reapplied – and with the same officer’s encouraging support was accepted. I had no idea what emigration even meant.” That was in 1978.

Life has a way of offering opportunity. His mother’s brother lived in Hawke’s Bay – one of the three Crasborn brothers who have put their stamp on the region’s apple business. Ricks headed directly there. “I’d never been on a plane before, didn’t know a soul outside the Netherlands – but I loved the trip; getting to know people like the nun who sat next to me returning to England after thirty years, the discovery of other places like Tehran riddled with warfare and guns.”

He worked in the orchard by day and did a lot of carving by night. “I came with one chisel.” Wood was his initial material of inspiration followed closely by a connection to steel, but ultimately a love for salvage and the disused (more often than not found in junkyards) and marrying and moulding them into art forms along with wood and iron was a metamorphosis which formed his transition into a found artist. “Something clicked as I was spending a lot of time clearing up debris and it held a fascination. I thought to myself ‘I could make sculpture’.” 

“So, I went to EIT – I was one of the first lot in ’88. Para Matchitt was there and Jacob Scott (both becoming well-recognised NZ artists). I did four years – two as a student and two as a technician.” While there he found a building site being demolished – “I had no idea what the process of acquiring a demolition yield involved – so I offered them $1,000. The contract was a six-inch-thick stack of paper which – naturally – I did not read. It was only later I discovered that this is a business and usually a site garners about $80,000 a bid.” He won the contract. “A friend and I went fifty/fifty and we had about a week to get everything off the site. Otherwise, we would have been in deep trouble. His wife was having a baby so in the end it landed up as my project.” 

That was the start of a decades-long love for demolition, “What they throw out, I’ll find.”

“I still have some of those materials now.” No surprise there – anyone who takes the turning into Mt Erin Road from Te Aute cannot help but notice the first houses on the right surrounded by a prolific array of art works plus a host of found materials being permitted to deform and deteriorate. Yet as their function value decreases, in Ricks’ eyes it is simply increasing in artistic value; and certainly it is not what many may regard as rubble. 

He shares the four acres with a cousin and his wife. Ricks’ partner chooses to live elsewhere “she likes things tidy” (smiling) – the whole making the perfect natural backdrop to his unmistakable gift for transforming wood, iron and steel, debris, and a multiplicity of found objects into works of art. Much of his work is in metal, the properties of which he has a complete and innate understanding. His course at EIT taught him to weld although he hastily admits “I am not a professional, but I know enough.” 

His creations cover a vast stratum, some with a superb and obvious sophistication achieved by spherical and undulating forms with high lustre lacquer finishes plus natural polish and sheen. Cool, calm and classed as collectors’ cache. 

Others, reflecting the true meaning of found art, are more mindful and intricate requiring thoughtful viewing and comprehension. Like his ‘Pillars’ – a collection of tall statuesque columns of industrial memorabilia outside the Hastings Art Gallery utilising elements of machinery, orchard and farm equipment and other idiosyncratic bits and pieces garnered from the outback of Hawke’s Bay to create art forms which represent the region’s industry and culture. 

He’s known as a collaborator. Many of his public works have been commissioned in conjunction with other artists – William Jameson was his student who became a very good friend with whom he worked on many projects; the stylised steel godwits which welcome everyone at the Napier Airport were created in conjunction with his long-time friend Jacob Scott. 

Drop by his property for even an hour and there will be a constant stream of cohorts, passers-by, tour groups and the curious who stop for a coffee and a chat. His assistant Sharlene who works with him every Friday laughingly says he is the most easily distracted artist she has ever known. “He is someone who likes and needs people.”

Today Ricks works mainly on commissions – local, national, and international. A procedure which can take time. And he is busy. Remarkably busy. Booked up for months (as reported by others; he’s not one to shout out his success). “It’s not so much the actual realisation of the work, it’s the process. Producing the concept, the meetings, the paperwork, the permissions required. And a lot of people involved who all have to agree.” 

But in the meantime, he is constantly experimenting. 

A walk through his property is revealing – a plethora of unfinished and finished works almost casually disclose themselves at every corner turned. A small church built for a friend’s mother’s funeral of no-longer-fit-for-use (thanks to health and safety) iron baking trays, hundreds of them – complete with steel drum and mallet for the church bell which rings with authority as it tolls. 

An archway of carved parrots commissioned by a friend who owned two of the rarest (and most expensive) parrots in the world – who would not mate. Desperate to produce a chick he asked Ricks to create a totem to help harness their fertility; it worked. But said friend (no longer we gather) failed to cough up. So, Ricks drove an exceptionally large nail into one of the carved parrots. The chick died. “Well, it was pretty weak in any case,” comments Ricks with a chuckle, shrugging off the suggestion that something more mystical may be involved. 

Many waka have emerged from his hands. Of varying sizes. Some enormous. There’s one at Elephant Hill and others at Kimi Ora and Mahora Schools. “But each one is always different,” he emphasises. ‘Jandal on the Mandal’ in Thames and part of the Hauraki Rail Trail is shortly to become a pair. The winner of the Thames Public Art Trust’s Open Sculpture Design Competition in 2017, its new match highlights Ricks’ love of rust – a finish he finds particularly satisfying. 

The jandal is also particularly heavy. Like many of his works. He is strong and fit but admits these days he has to be ingenious in finding ways of lifting heavy metal – as it were. “I do have a crane, of sorts,” said with another grin (he made it himself), “but you do get quite good at working out how to move the really heavy works – like getting a truck to push it.” His humour gets him through many a testing moment one suspects. 

Ricks’ library of material sits expectantly in the property – waiting for him to recognise the hidden potential and create something beautiful out of what the less imaginative of us would discard. One can only wonder what this irrepressibly innovative original will produce next as he brings the discarded and abandoned back to a new life. 

Join the Conversation

2 Comments

  1. Absolutely beautifully written well deserved story Feeling blessed I own two pieces of Ricks work I love them more than I did the day I fell in love with them Thankyou Rick they are very much admired by everyone

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.