Robert Rapson: Against the tide

Growing up overlooking the Wellington harbour, Robert Rapson (1951—2020) would watch the ships coming and going, imagining their long, romantic journeys.

This exhibition celebrates the life and work of the late Hutt Valley-based ceramic artist, best known for his wonderfully wonky yet uncannily accurate sculptures of boats. Mostly self-taught, Rapson came to ceramics later in life after a civil service career—embracing art-making as a way to help weather the storm clouds that passed through his life.

His joyful and distinctive approach to clay caught the eye of international curators and collectors, exhibiting his work to acclaim at the New York International Outsider Art Fair and galleries in New York, Los Angeles, Paris and Sydney. He also earned recognition closer to home, winning the Molly Morpeth 3D Award in 2003, the Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Achievement Award in 2014, as well as Te Uru’s own Premiere Portage Ceramic Award in 2013. However, Rapson remained largely outside the mainstream art world, instead developing tight-knit relationships within the Hutt Art Society, Vincent’s Art Workshop and Mix—an  organisation that provides artistic opportunities to people experiencing mental illness.

Against the tide reflects both Rapson’s passion for ships and his position outside the artistic status quo. Aiming to provide a wider view of his practice beyond just boats, the exhibition draws on a range of finished and unfinished ceramics from his estate complemented by prime examples of his work from private collections and images drawn from his personal scrapbooks and notebooks—celebrating Rapson’s clever, creative and delightfully quirky way of looking at the world.

Against the tide was developed by The Dowse Art Museum. Special thanks to Caryl McKirdy, Elaine Murray, and the lenders, whose generous support has made this presentation possible.

Image: Against the tide, 2021. Installation view courtesy of The Dowse. By Ted Whitaker.

11 June - 07 August 2022

Photos by Sam Hartnett


Robert Rapson obituary

Premier Portage Award 2013

Robert Rapson Outsider Artist - video

Arts Access Achievement Award 2014