Sam Thomas is the gallery’s current artist in residence, who has been in the Cooks since November working on the exhibition he named ‘Hell Fire’ – referring to traditional pieces in the Cook Islands that were burned because they were deemed non-Christian.
Thomas’ work merges tradition with futuristic features – such as a banana ‘chandelier’, where plastic bananas cluster around coloured LED lights that flash from red to pink to blue, green and yellow.
“I wanted to remodel it into something that fits today and fits our current times,” said Thomas.
The star of the exhibition, and the artist’s favourite piece, is a sleek black vaka – made at the suggestion of master carver Mike Tavioni – that took Thomas around six weeks to make.
He said the vaka is “more or less in the traditional style”, but it is embellished with lights – including glowing red lights at one end of the vaka that greeted those entering the gallery, poking through a wall of palmex supplied by Marcus Niszow from Pacific Resort.
Thomas graduated from Auckland University’s Elam School of Fine Arts two years ago, and is visiting the Cooks with his partner Pouarii Tanner, a Cook Islander who he met at an art show in Auckland.
Back home in New Zealand, Thomas is a painter and sculpter who previously ran an art gallery on High Street called the Snake Pitt – which closed prior to his trip to Rarotonga.
Thomas’ work is influenced by his previous travels to India and Mexico.
“While travelling I learned techniques that I use in my art now. And while in the Cook Islands I’ve learned techniques that I’m sure I’ll use in the future.”