Creative Corner: Malcolm Ford’s quasi-mechanical sculptures

Drawing from Leonardo da Vinci’s 2D paintings and 3D models, Malcolm works mostly with manuka wood and copper, forming an artistic practice that is entirely his own.

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Malcolm with his sculpture "Venetian Prince".

If you’ve visited art galleries in Auckland, Wanganui or Christchurch, you may have seen the fascinating quasi-mechanical sculptures of Malcolm Ford, an Adventist and talented artist living in Whangarei, New Zealand.

“My ideas revolve around quasi- mechanical contraptions that have elements of fantasy and absurdity,” explains Malcolm. “It was probably a protest statement about the stereotype, mass-produced products where function over-rode imagination.”

Drawing from Leonardo da Vinci’s 2D paintings and 3D models, Malcolm works mostly with manuka wood and copper, forming an artistic practice that is entirely his own.

“I appear to be the only artist using [manuka]. I also began experimenting with scrap copper [where] all the components are fitted together with copper wire and there is no soldering or brazing. All the internal mechanisms of the engines have the illusion of function. It’s not sculpture in terms of figurative carvings [where] you have to release it . . . [it’s] more constructive, building up,” he explained. “My sculpture reflects my interest in machinery.”

Another of Malcolm’s sculptures, “Vision of Samuel Pepys”.

Working for most of his life as a high school English and social studies teacher, Malcolm didn’t discover his talent for sculpting until his retirement in the late 1980s. Now—at the ripe young age of 91—he is still creating, although using different mediums.

“After I retired from teaching, I worked for an engineering company doing design work and when [they] folded, I discovered the joy of sculpting. I’m getting to an age where I can’t physically do what I used to be able to. I’m not doing physical construction work now. I’m presently writing. North of our city there is a town that has a little vintage railway and steam engine running down the middle of the main street. I’ve written a poem and illustrated it, so that will be published soon I think.”

For Malcolm, the mechanical world reflects the great design of God.

“Some Christians think artists should not wander from God’s natural world of butterflies, flowers, panda bears and the human form to imitate in art,” he said. “It might seem strange to some that someone with a deep spiritual appreciation for life would want to be involved in the intricacies of the mechanical world. But who can marvel at the natural world without appreciating the great mechanical designs of God?”

Another of Malcolm’s sculptures, “MS Ploughshares”.

Malcolm still attends church when he can, and emphasises that none of his 90 sculptures and dozens of other artworks—which have been featured and won prizes in more than 20 exhibitions across the world—have ever been worked on during the Sabbath hours.

To see more of Malcolm’s incredible work, you can watch Dennis Murphy Visuals’ video at <vimeo.com/138425364>.