Often mistaken for part of the architecture,
Don Driver’s Untitled Construction (1982) is both
simple and spectacular.
It is one of seven art works by different
contemporary artists commissioned by Pat Hanly
in 1982 to complement the design of the new
School of Architecture building.
Known for his ability to exploit the suggestive
power of combinations of ordinary things, Driver
was given a dark corner of the foyer to animate.
Fixed to the wall at the top by a system of five
towel rails, vinyl sheets in the three primary
colours of red, yellow and blue and the secondary
colour of orange, create a bright four-metre fall
of colour down the wall. Floating freely in front like
a set of mirrors for a caged bird are three
suspended steel panels which turn slowly in space
with wind currents, reflecting alternately the work
and its surrounds.
Taranaki-based Driver trained as a dental
technician and then worked for a paint and
wallpaper merchant in New Plymouth, and is
self-taught as an artist. His six-month bus trip
across the United States provided first-hand
experience of the colour field paintings of
American abstraction, and the assemblages
of Pop artists which motivated him to “not
to copy, but to make an equivalent from
materials around me”.
Often described as a regional artist, Driver
transforms everyday materials to leap beyond their
mundane origins into the realm of art. As a child he
always wanted to be a magician – “the inexplicable
and magical have always appealed to me”, he
explains – and his works often use unexpected
juxtapositions. As the manager of a fertiliser works
who provided materials to Driver remarked: “It is
a great achievement for a fertiliser bag to become
a work of art – and a surprising one.”
One of the lessons that Driver learned through his
close observation of American expressionism was
that colour need not be placed in the service of form
but could assert its own identity. In this work, the
proximity of the complementary colours orange and
blue helps them enhance each other’s strength.
Recycling discarded tarpaulin material (“Used is
a criteria” as Elizabeth Smither notes in her poem,
Pouch for Don) Driver finds his colour ready-made.
He affects an informality which seems casual, but
the bands of colour are carefully measured out
against each other, their distance from the wall and
each other balanced to create shadows and depth.
By hanging shiny panels in front of the colour, Driver
invites a reflective response.
Driver instructs people to stop looking for
meanings in his work, saying “I am simply
exploiting colour and form in relationship one to
the other. What you see is what the painting really
is. There is no story behind it. No inner
significance.” This work keeps the play between
warm and cool colours constant but its freefloating
steel parts offer change, and a different
effect to every viewer.