Paul Cullen (1949-2017) – tribute to ‘witty and whimsical’ New Zealand artist

Paul Cullen (1949-2017) – tribute to ‘witty and whimsical’ New Zealand artist

We are saddened to hear of the recent death of Auckland artist Paul Cullen (1949-2017).

Paul Cullen stands beside his artwork A Garden
Paul Cullen with his installation A Garden, Te Papa, 2009. Photograph by Michael Hall

He was a constantly intelligent presence in the contemporary art scene for over 40 years, and his final illness only served to catalyse his productivity to the very end.

Poignantly, his exhibition Provisional Arrangements at Two Rooms, Auckland, only closed on 11 March.

Working across media

Paul’s work crossed all media boundaries, from sculpture to furniture to installation to architecture to landscape architecture.

His philosophy was both practical Kiwi (for a while after art school at Canterbury he earned his living repairing furniture) and intellectual (he had a science degree, more recently earned a Doctorate of Fine Arts, and was an Associate Professor at the School of Art and Design at Auckland University of Technology).

‘Dismantled and tormented objects’

This duality comes over in Paul’s research profile where he writes:

‘My art practice is located in a strategy of fabricational ploys directed principally towards physical, sculptural outcomes, ranging across drawing, object making and installation. Research informing my projects encompasses such concerns as site, models, diagrams, science and gardens. Recent projects have employed a vocabulary of dismantled and tormented objects (chairs, tables, pencils…).’

Alongside his quirkily elegant furniture related objects, Paul’s mechanical sculptures – influenced by but entirely distinct from Len Lye – also earned him admiration.

From drawing to architecture

There are several examples of Paul’s early drawings and lithographs which relate to architectural and landscape projects in Te Papa’s collection.

Paul Cullen's artwork Landscape/architecture I
Paul Cullen, Landscape/architecture I, 1988, lithograph. Purchased 2010. Te Papa
Paul Cullen's artwork Landscape/architecture II
Paul Cullen, Landscape/architecture II, 1988, lithograph. Purchased 2010.

A Garden tops Te Papa

But Paul became known to – and much appreciated by – a far larger audience in his landscape installation A Garden, which was exhibited on Te Papa’s Level 6 Sculpture Terrace during the summer of 2009-10.

It represents a fruitful collaboration with Charlotte Huddleston, Te Papa’s former Curator of Contemporary Art.

Paul Cullen's A Garden
Paul Cullen, A Garden, Te Papa, 2009. Photograph by Michael Hall

It makes perfect sense in this tribute blog to show the artist himself talking about his project.

Witty and whimsical, quirky and clever, the work of Paul Cullen will be long appreciated but its quietly effective and thoughtful maker sadly missed.

– Sarah Farrar, Senior Curator Art


  1. Time has a funny way of sneaking up.
    I remember filming Paul on the roof back in 2009.
    Lovely understated man, now he’s gone.

  2. I am sad too, to hear of Paul Cullen’s death. He was a fine man and a wonderful artist – his work a refined, intellectual version of kiwi ingenuity.
    May the force be with you, Paul.

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