Grant Palliser was born in Christchurch 6 October 1949. Palliser's attention was first drawn to art when he was eight years old. His uncle painted copies of calendar reproductions: which introduced art as lifestyle that appealed to Palliser. Growing up in Christchurch, he lived an enjoyable childhood. ‘I can remember my folks always working hard in order to provide my sister and I with the best life experiences and opportunities, such as music lessons.'
At Christchurch's Riccarton High School, Palliser spent many lunchtimes poring through the art books in the school library. As a junior in school he took art as a subject choice and created a sculpture that was accepted in a youth art exhibition in Japan. However, Palliser chose to pursue science throughout his senior years of secondary school.
When he was 20 years old he started his first job in the Medical Research Unit at Princess Margret Hospital in Christchurch, where he spent three years. Palliser developed an interest in working with people instead of test tubes so, to further his experience, he moved to Auckland where he worked in community health.
At 38 Palliser decided to embark on an artistic career. His supportive family enabled him to make his dreams a reality. ‘There's no point looking back on life and saying ‘I wish,' says Palliser. After a year of preparation, he began his study at Ilam School of art, University of Canterbury, spending alternate weekends in Nelson with his family.
Palliser initially planned to make painting his primary focus. However he ‘discovered' sculpture and made it his major. Sculpture possessed all the qualities that appealed to Palliser. ‘It cast real shadows and wasn't about illusion.' ‘Sculpture is what you trip over when you step back to look at a painting.' Palliser found his ideas became limitless as the whole world was a supermarket of materials, giving him the opportunity to create art out of what ever was appropriate.
It was always his ambition to become an art teacher. He had enjoyed his own art education, although he was also determined to be a practicing artist as well. He also studied art history and philosophy, which furthered his knowledge and would later benefit his teaching.
At 42 years of age, after completing his degree in Fine Art and his teaching qualifications, he commenced his career as an art teacher at Nelson College For Girls. Whilst teaching Palliser also managed his time, as planned, to be a practicing artist and it was in this period that he began developing his ideas for sculptures.
Whilst in Nelson, Palliser's public sculpture work began to flourish as he started to gain a local reputation for his work. In 1996 his first sculpture was commissioned by the Nelson City Council and funded by the Canterbury Trust. ‘The Oracle - The future is in our hands' operates on several levels; the idea of seizing opportunities and not allowing them to slip through our fingers. The hand itself represents Nelson; it is a nurturing hand that describes the geography of the Nelson Region with plains, bays and surrounding mountains. Furthermore Nelson has traditionally been a centre for handmade arts and crafts such as weaving and pottery. The local Tangata Whenua worked and commanded the local argillite (mud stone) to form stone tools. Palliser combined all these qualities and made a sculpture that symbolises Nelson.
In 2003 Palliser created a sculpture for the main entrance of the Nelson Hospital. ‘Art For Health' encourages patients and family to maintain a positive attitude. It spirals upwards, portraying the idea of getting better and leaving the hospital due to the improvement of health. It consists of stainless steel triangular modules; each side symbolising a health model where three significant features relate to patient's improvement in health. Side one represents the hospital and its infrastructure such as the doctors, nurses and equipment. Side two represents the patients themselves and side three portrays the family/whanau of the patients who visit and later care for the patients, when they are discharged but still recuperating.
It is important to Palliser that his sculptures are site specific, and that they encourage the public to respond and interact with them. High Flyers, which is placed along the Maitai River walkway is an example. The sculpture is a response to the rapids in the water and the high energy of the site. Palliser designed the sculpture so the rocks had the energy rather than the water. The poles are designed to be shaken, allowing the rocks on the poles to sway and the work therefore becomes kinetic.
Palliser currently has six public sculptures in Nelson, all of which are significant in some way to the Nelson community.
At time of writing in 2013, Palliser continues to work as an art teacher at Nelson College For Girls. He plays an influential part as a teacher and always provides advice and encouragement to his students. He is a role model for the young aspiring artists and provides students with a successful figure to look up to. ‘ I enjoy working with young people, and empowering them to take risks with their work, think laterally and innovatively, and continue to ask themselves ‘what if'....' These are important life skills.
In response to his varied life journey so far, Palliser says ‘I have no regrets. I feel very privileged as I have such a huge range of life experiences to draw on for my art practice as well as my teaching.' He considers that entering art school as an adult with broad life experiences was an advantage.
Early in 2014 Palliser plans to reconnect with painting and printmaking through participating in a residency in Ireland with other art educators. It will be a time to produce new art works and experiment in a variety different media and techniques in a response to discovering an unfamiliar environment.
This article was submitted as part of a Nelson Marlborough Insititute of Technology Creative Writing assignment, 2013.
Updated May 2020
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Further sources - Grant Palliser
- Bean, E. (2012, September 11). Nelson Mail. Retrieved from Stuff:
- Neal, T. (2001, May 16) Settled at last. Nelson Mail, p.17
- Interviews with Grant Palliser, 2013
- Grant Palliser: sculptor. Retrieved 11 June, 2013 from:
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