Commissioned by the Ministry of Works in 1965, the nine metres of Energetic Forms graced the University of Canterbury’s Science Lecture Theatres building for nearly fifty years. It was the pièce de resistance on an interior foyer wall, designed specifically for the space and making reference to physics, chemistry and mathematics, the subjects taught within the adjacent lecture halls.
Ria Bancroft had only been living in Christchurch for two years when she received the commission for this work, having moved from Florence in 1962 to be near her daughter. It was made in collaboration with local carver Pat Mulcahy and crafted in wood with resin and applied colour. Bancroft had met Mulcahy whilst exhibiting with The Group in 1963.
Highly abstract in form and focused on energy and movement, this work differs from better-known examples of her public sculpture which tend to be representational and highly spiritual in nature. The series of interlooping shapes in Energetic Forms suggests Bancroft’s familiarity with the work of the Futurists, a group of early twentieth century Italian painters, sculptors, architects and writers who celebrated industrialisation and mechanisation in their work. Bancroft studied sculpture for her Diploma from the Academy of Florence where she was taught by artists schooled in the Futurist style. The sharp stylised forms and metallic patina no doubt appealed to the commissioning ministry as modern and dynamic as well.
Bancroft found the lack of materials and foundry equipment for metal sculpture in Christchurch restrictive, so began to experiment with resins and metallic powders. Her panels for the tabernacle doors for the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Barbadoes Street, Christ has died – Christ is risen were cast in bronze England to her design. As a result of the publicity given to Energetic Forms when it was installed, Bancroft and Mulcahy were commissioned to design a mural for the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation’s building in Rotorua in 1966.
Bancroft exhibited with both the Canterbury Society of Arts (now CoCA Centre of Contemporay Art Toi Moroki) and The Group, and was invited to become a member of the New Zealand Society of Sculptors in 1964, all memberships which helped her gain acceptance in the small local scene.
Since the 2013 demolition of its host building, this work has been languishing in the university’s art store and Bancroft’s artistic contribution to the academic environment has been lost from view. Commemorations for the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage unfolding across Aotearoa New Zealand provide this opportunity for Energetic Forms to be removed from storage and exhibited – crates and all – for the first time in a gallery setting.
Presented in association with the Art Collection, University of Canterbury and with thanks
to Lydia Baxendell.