Written by John Williams
These birds are just two of the 47 giant owl sculptures that have been installed in public spaces, parks, malls and libraries across Auckland as part of the Haier Big Hoot art trail. The owls will be on public display until May 6th, after which they will be auctioned off to fundraise for Child Cancer Foundation.
Each identical Owl has been turned into a bespoke piece of art by a Kiwi or International artist, with works by Dick Frizzell, Jeff Thomson, Greer Clayton, Flox, Weilun Ha, Peata Larkin, Grace Wright, Jessica Pearless… and many more.
One of Ponsonby’s painted owls was created by UK-based artist, Jenny Leonard, who flew down to NZ to complete her work. Jenny has worked extensively in the field of public art and has produced over 20 art trail projects across the UK, raising over $200,000 with her work for charity.
Jenny’s owl, ‘Imagine Owl the People’, sponsored by the Ponsonby Business Association, sits proudly at the top of Anglesea Street, in between Mr Toms and Chapel Bar, and as its name suggests, is in the image of John Lennon, with his trademark spectacles.
“I knew the Owl was a great canvas to make a face on,” she says. “My previous owl, for The Big Hoot in Birmingham, was a jungle-themed design, but with this one I wanted to set myself the challenge of making it look like someone iconic. John Lennon immediately came to mind, as the big owl eyes mirrored his famous circular specs… then I thought of the pun of his song, to call it 'Imagine Owl the People',” she laughs.
Jenny always tries to hide a little piece of herself in her work and for this one it’s a teeny self-portrait under the owl’s wing, with her favourite Lennon lyric. “I hope people will discover it on the trail,” she says.
Her owl was painted in Auckland, at the Child Cancer Centre – and she made a time-lapse video of the event. “It was a perfect space to paint in and have the radio on all day,” says Jenny. “I worked in the studio with another one of the artists, Kate Hursthouse, who painted a beautiful, black, dream catcher owl with some lovely typography. I also really love Erika Pearce’s Owl, and her mural work is amazing, but didn't get to meet her when I was out there, unfortunately.”
Jenny says, for her, art belongs out on the streets in public places, not in the gallery. “With art trails like The Big Hoot, it’s art for everybody. Everyone can enjoy it, walk the trail, see their city, discover new places, and view work from loads of different artists. I have been part of Wild in Art (the co-organisers of the Big Boot) for the last six years now, and the projects are always fun and accessible and raise huge amounts of money for some fantastic causes." "I feel proud of the money I've raised for charity, and it's a real buzz when you go to the auction and see your work go under the hammer, knowing that it is going to a good cause.”
When the event finishes, Jenny’s owl will go to auction, along with all the other 46 owls, to raise funds for Child Cancer Foundation NZ.
For her next project, Jenny is working on painting a huge dragon sculpture for Kew Gardens in London for a project with Wild in Art and Blue Peter (A TV kids show over in the UK). She’s also painting a 15-metre-long mural in the children’s section of a library in South London, plus the outside of a new bar.
Ponsonby’s Second Owl
There is another owl sculpture at the Three Lamps end of Ponsonby, on the corner of Jervois Rd and Ponsonby Rd. Napier-based artist Fane Flaws is its decorator. Fane has been involved with several of these fundraisers for great causes, such as the The Big Egg for Starship Hospital.
“The Owl was an interesting shape to deal with,” he says. “My inspiration came from a rug I had designed for a friend’s house. I was thinking about the owl and happened to visit my friends, saw the rug, and a little bell rang. I thought those decals would work well on that shape.”
Of all the other designs, Fane says he loves Jeff Thompson’s corrugated owl.
For those wanting more information and a more interactive experience, download The Big Hoot 2018 app, where you can find and collect owls, unlock exciting rewards, view your trail progress, add photos to our ‘owl gallery’, and share on social media. You can also access the site’s shop and make a donation.