For 25 years a quiet, collaborative, and somewhat unlikely relationship has unfolded and grown in Auckland, between one of the country’s most important artists and one of its best hair stylists. Just weeks ago, the latest piece in the puzzle was unveiled on a prominent corner in Britomart.

Artist Michael Parekowhai and hair stylist Greg Murrell first worked together when Parekowhai was an art student and Murrell opened his salon Ryder near the University of Auckland. Today, Michael is responsible for a phenomenal new sculpture on Queen’s Wharf called The Lighthouse and Greg is celebrating five years since Ryder moved to Britomart. Among the sinks and scissors and creative chaos has always been Michael’s work, and we weren’t sure quite how, or why, it all came about.

We pitched some questions to Michael and Greg. Huge thanks to Michael Parekowhai, Greg Murrell, Michael Lett and Mark Smith for the photographs.

Greg – can you tell us a little bit about how the relationship started, between you and Michael/ Michael and Ryder?

I have been cutting Michael’s hair for many years. I remember that we just hit it off right from the start. When I opened Ryder in our previous location, it was a very spacious and airy environment in the middle of Albert Park with a very high stud. That space really suited having an art presence. He just offered to do an installation one day and we’ve hosted his work ever since.

Michael can you tell us what you like about having your work living in a space like this?

Originally, I liked it because Ryder wasn’t a formal art space, it was a working space, and art could just be there while people were having their hair cut. In its current location the art sits on the border between private and public – some is further back in the space, some is in the windows and can be seen by people driving by or walking along Custom Street East.

Greg, how do people react to the works? And what do you think it adds to the salon?

People engage with the works in different ways. Some are highly attuned to them and others seem not to notice.The best thing is that the works just live with us and people get the opportunity to sit amongst them and quietly take it in rather than say a gallery setting where your engagement may be on foot and moving around. My desire is for a sense of escapism and elevation when people visit us so the process becomes more than just a haircut.

Michael… can you tell us a bit about the new piece that’s gone into Ryder’s windows?

The Rules of the Game is a neon sign, the letters spell out C-L-O-S-E-D and flash on and off. It’s the sister work of the O-P-E-N neon sign I made in 2009, which was called Yes We Are. While that earlier sign was about the exploration and optimism of the open question, this sign is a different proposition. Each of the letters has a distinct typography and colour, like an old-fashioned ransom note made up of letters cut out of newspapers and magazines. The sign draws you in with its colourful flashing lights, but tells you that you can’t enter. The lighting sequence illuminates each letter sequentially to spell out closed, then the letters at either end drop off briefly so the word becomes lose.

Do either of you know of other similar collaborative relationships like yours?

Greg: I am aware of art collaborations in other salons now which is great but at the time we started hosting Michael’s installations it seemed unique.

Michael:It’s not unusual for visual artists to work with creatives in different disciplines and I enjoy working with Greg – our relationship stretches back over 25 years to my days as an art student when he first cut my hair.

Michael how are you feeling about The Lighthouse now that the dust has settled? How do feelings change about a piece like this – from planning through to now? Do you become more connected to it, or less?

It’s been good seeing different people responding to The Lighthouse on Queens Wharf. At most times of the day and night, someone is down there, looking in through the windows or taking photos. I don’t feel less connected to it, but it’s satisfying to share the work with others.

Greg – Auckland now has what you’ve had for a while now – a significant piece of Michael’s that can be visited and touched and interacted with. What are your thoughts around that?

I love The Lighthouse. Michael always brings such a beautiful aesthetic sense to his work and I knew that once people realised that the work was about so much more than just the form of the house that it would be widely admired. There is a sense of magic about it that will make a child’s eyes widen and their mouths open but with so many complex ideas to think about on an adult level also.

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