Llewelyn Mark Summers was born Christchurch in 1947 and died at his Mt Pleasant home on 1 August 2019.
Llew’s career spanned nearly 50 years, an oeuvre of 900 works in a wide variety of media: wood, bronze, concrete, marble, cast glass and terracotta. The works range in size from large scale (more than 2 m in height), which despite their monumental size are often remarkable for their sense of movement and even flight, to small pieces of 150 mm. A visibly challenging artist, his work often caused controversy, but he was proud to have brought the nude to Christchurch. An intuitive sculptor who created from the heart, he believed that art should be about beauty; enriching and seductive. He also believed it is the role of the artist to challenge: “if it’s not challenging, then, in some way, it’s not new”. His primary interest was in figurative works, and is celebratory of the human form, affirming the beauty of the human body. However, following a formative and revelatory overseas trip in 1999, his work often had a more overtly spiritual content. As his use of religious symbolism developed it led to a fertile preoccupation with winged forms. These angels are an obvious melding of the human and the divine – bringing an explicitly spiritual element to his work and highlighting the important role of morality, and the spiritual dimension of human existence.
“What’s important to me is to get a balance between the physical and the spiritual in life. We’re given a soul and we’re given a body. Sculpture is a nice balance because works can be made which are deep and meaningful, but they require your physical body to produce them. Works must have soul, rather than being merely clever or smart.”
He was commissioned to create 14 Stations of the Cross to mark the centenary of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Christchurch. The Stations inspired Bernadette Hall to write a series of poems, or meditations, and these were published, along with images of the Stations, in The Way of the Cross. The Stations and Hall's poems in turn became the inspiration for New Zealand composer Anthony Ritchie's fourth symphony, Opus 171, Stations. The work was written for the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and was dedicated to those who suffered in the major earthquakes that hit Christchurch in 2010/2011. Llew regularly participated in outdoor sculpture shows as his larger works are ideal for garden and other outdoor settings and these can be seen in public spaces throughout New Zealand. His bronze Butterfly was purchased for permanent placement in the Auckland Botanic Gardens following their inaugural exhibition in 2007 and his large bronze: To the End of Love was purchased for the Gardens in 2020.
“The figurative has been going out of fashion for so long and people have said to me: ‘the figure has had its day’. Hello? We are human beings. As long as we are human beings, the figure will be there.”
He was the recipient of a number of awards, and his work is held in public and private collections in New Zealand as well as many private collections overseas, including Australia, USA, Germany, Great Britain, Switzerland, Greece, Malawi, Sweden and Finland. He is represented by a number of galleries in New Zealand where works can be viewed online as well as at www.llewsummers.co.nz. John Newton’s biography, Llew Summers: Body and Soul, is being published by Canterbury University Press in 2020 with the support of Creative New Zealand.