Max Patté, 37, lives in a 1920s’ bungalow in Wellington’s Island Bay that features in Urbis Issue 80. The englishman bought the home, which is adorned with many of his life-sized glass-reinforced concrete sculptures, in 2012, six years after arriving in New Zealand. He makes his works, including the one that sits on Wellington’s waterfront, at Weta Workshop, where he manages the sculpture department. We asked him about life as an artist and working in the movies.
Urbis: How did you come to be a sculptor?
MP: By persuing what came naturally and what made me happy. I’m never happier than when I’m in my jeans and work boots within reach of a power tool or a bag of clay. There’s something primordial about sinking your hand into a bag of wet clay; the direct connection to the earth. It’s the same pleasure as working with wood or iron.
U: Where did you study?
MP: I studied at Wimbledon School of Art in London. I was very fortunate to benefit from a generous and brilliant tutor, Allan Sly, and then go on to work alongside, without question, some of the best in their respective fields during my ten years in the UK’s film industry. I’m also very fortunate to have grown up with exposure to a mass of art, from antiquity to contemporary. Growing up in Europe you really do almost become blind to the amount of art on every corner; in turn, every corner becomes an extension of your education. Different countries offer different styles, movements, ideas, materials and histories so travel really has been the most informative part of my learning.
U: What brought you to New Zealand?
MP: The need to do something different; to step outside my comfort zone, to take a good look at my life and see what needed changing. I thought 12,000 miles was probably far enough.
U: Why did you choose to settle in Wellington?
MP: First off, apart from the wind, I can think of worse places. But also, I quickly found that anything is possible here and living is so easy. The most obvious example of this is my sculpture, Solace in the Wind, which sits perched on Wellington’s waterfront. There’s no way on earth that piece would come to fruition in a city like London. It is these stark contrasts in the tiny day-to-day things that make me smile and contributed to the decision after my first year here to come back.
U: What does your job at Weta Workshop involve?
MP: In a nutshell, I’m suppose I’m there to provide quality control for the sculpting department. I’m like the man in charge of the monkey enclosure at the zoo, but some days I wonder who’s in charge of who. My honest answer would also have to be not much; today, I only have a very small team who require very little management. They work to schedule and to budget and the quality and originality of their work needs never to be questioned. These happy facts are all what give me the time and freedom to spend 95 per cent of my day focused on my own practice and creative pursuits.
U: You are known for your male figures. What drew you to that subject matter?
MP: The ability to portray a combination or contrast of an outward physical strength and inner vulnerability. They are mostly quiet works that stand alone. It’s these moments of inward reflection that in the past have interested me most. For a work to succeed, though, it has to invite a connection with the viewer and evoke in them the same emotion or sense of being. In what are essentially only ever static works of art, this sense of inner expression must be entirely portrayed through their physicality alone. Men are apparently expert at this. A woman will tell you how she feels, a man will only convey it through physical means. So I sculpt what I know. My own favourite work, Rest, is a male nude painted black and is the only piece from my collection yet to sell.
U: How long does it take you, generally, to finish a piece?
MP: I have a very short attention span and two to three weeks is about my limit for actual time spent on any one work in clay. After this, my creative burst is as good as spent. But the time the piece spends being cast at the foundry is, of course, much longer. Weeks or months pass before I see the piece again. By this time, though, I have gained fresh enthusiasm and often new inspiration for how the finished item will look.
U: What are you working on at the moment?
MP: I’m exploring the ancient idea that beauty is inherent according to a naturally occurring divine mathematical order or number; an order that connects us to everything else we know. Does using this ‘divine’ number as a formula to make new work create inherently beautiful art? I’m exploring this concept with both painting and sculpture. Whilst it certainly represents a change in direction from previous work it definitely keeps the figure at the centre of my sculptural practice but perhaps a more playful, colorful side is about to emerge.
To see more of Patté’s home, pick up a copy of the June/July issue of Urbis. To subscribe, click here.