Sarah Munro


“The mechanised repetition of the same image, yet with each having a very obvious variation in scale and shape, focuses on the work’s technological beginnings and reiterates, with a digital twist, the now perennial question of the artist’s hand in contemporary art work” – Sarah Munro

Sarah Munro is an artisan. Although this is a word that has connotations associated with craft or the more manual aspects of production, elements of this physical, ‘hand-ons’ approach are integral to her practice. However, this is combined with a strictly academic focus, particularly as she is presently working towards her Doctorate at Elam School of Fine Arts, Auckland. It is anomalies such as this that are a feature of Munro’s current work, but they are also pertinent in relation to the ongoing debate and discussion around the role of the artist.

Without a doubt, it is the rapid advance of technology that has had the most profound impact on the artistic community during the past twenty years. The sheer choice of materials and media has collided with a heightened awareness and acceptance of what can be considered art – by practitioners, their infrastructure, and the public in general. Aligned with this has been a dialogue (which has been raging for somewhat longer) over whether art is a concept or an actuality. The protagonists of the latter suggest that if an artist didn’t paint, sculpt or carve the work his or herself, it somewhat lacking. Yet ideas of the ‘collaborative’ stretch back to Renaissance times, where a master like Raphael employed a workshop of artists to create works under his name. Each had an area of speciality such as gesture or figure, and thus a painting was completed by utilising a combination of the very best skills available.

Sarah Munro operates in a similar vein. Like the artists that came to modernism after training in the classical style, she is an accomplished sculptor and photographer who has taken a traditional route through the tertiary education system. It was this rigorous background that prompted her to teach herself the skills necessary to create the faces that are Surface . She essentially took on the brief of a surfboard manufacturer; hand laying and finishing applications of fibreglass and resin over blocks of chemically formed foam. The contours and variations in the structure are of utmost importance to the effect of the finished piece, and these discrepancies can only be achieved with hours of grinding back the surface, puttying and smoothing. This was especially problematic in an earlier series, where holes or omissions in the face required a great deal of preparation to achieve the desired result. Currently, she shapes the foam herself, and then passes it on to one of New Zealand’s most eminent surfboard makers for completion.

It is undercoated in the most traditional sense, and prepared in much the same way as a canvas. Munro then programmes the digital painting machine based at the Elam workshop, that ostensibly functions in a similar way to an ink-jet printer by dispensing oil paint in a fine spray, following the electronic guidance of the computer to which it is linked. As Munro discovered, the procedure was more akin to dealing with a palette that necessitated subtle mixing of colour. This was enormously frustrating at times, because what was visible on screen did not always translate to the finished product. Much like the more traditional method of execution, it relies on instinct and experimentation.

Overall, a seemingly detached process becomes quite the opposite, requiring careful supervision and cleaning of the machinery between each layer. This is to ensure that there is no tainting of the colours, and she is constantly aware that any slipping, jamming or irregularity could mean a repeat of the entire procedure. Thus, the hand of the artist is once again resumed, although only in so much as it is hampered or aided by the technology with which it works.

Munro has selected a classical, almost androgynous face, with even features that allow the content and theories behind her practice to come to the fore. It also provides a marked contrast between the three-dimensional she develops, and the overt two dimensionality the machinery produces. Because it is limited to an even application, the only contours or sense of the fulsome nature of a visage are realised by those the artist has created herself when shaping the initial form. Depth is further conveyed by the number of paint layers she chooses to apply, and by the strength of colour – again reliant on the systematic way the pigment hits the canvas.

What appears at first to be seven identical sculptures are rendered unique upon close inspection. In an effect that is almost hypnotising due to their size, the viewer must seek to find the points where perspective and focus shift, where the ‘reality’ of reproduction is proven to be a deception.

Sarah Munro’s discourse becomes complete when the apparent duplication offered by a machine is proven to be anything but.


Completed Doctorate of Fine Arts, Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland

2000 – 1999
Masters of Fine Arts; Sculpture, Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland

1991 – 1988
Bachelor of Fine Arts; Sculpture, Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland


Acting Out, Adam Art Gallery, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington

ART UTE Project: 10 Cubic Metres of Mobile Space for Artists, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland

Surface Detail, Gus Fisher Gallery, University of Auckland, Auckland

Pictorial Space, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington
Hybrids, Moving Image Centre, Auckland

Select> Effect> Export, Te Tuhi, Auckland
Happy the World so Made, Snow White Gallery, Auckland
Real Art Road Show, traveling exhibition, nationwide

Red Shift, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington
ReMasters, Corban Estate Arts Centre, Auckland
Western Gothic, CEAC, Auckland
Hot-Rod and Lip-Gloss, 64zero3, Christchurch
Misty Frequencies, Whakatane Public Art Gallery, Whakatane

Surface, Millennium Art Gallery, Blenheim
Clean Machine: Homages to Engineering in Contemporary Art, Gus Fisher Gallery, University of Auckland, Auckland
SCULPTURE, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington
Working Drawings, Hocken Library, Dunedin
HOT, 64zero3, Christchurch
Surface Revisted, Blue Oyster Gallery, Dunedin

2006 – 2007
15th Annual Wallace Art Awards Exhibition, Aotea Gallery, Auckland; Pataka, Porirua

Surface [W. Benjamin’s Nightmare], Corban Estate Arts Centre, Auckland

Surface, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington

Wallace Arts Trust Finalists, touring exhibition, nationwide
Fringe of Heaven, Lopdell House Gallery, Auckland

Wallace Arts Trust Finalists, touring exhibition, nationwide
Glacier, Lightbox Gallery, Auckland
Off White, George Fraser Gallery, University of Auckland, Auckland

Trace, George Fraser Gallery, University of Auckland, Auckland
Zero, ASA Gallery, Auckland
Face, Arch Hill Gallery, Auckland
Delight, Artstation Gallery, Auckland

Putting the Painters to Bed, Artstation Gallery, Auckland
Primary, Lopdell House Gallery, Auckland
Gardens on Parade, Artstation Gallery, Auckland

Proximity, Lopdell House Gallery, Auckland

Appliqué, ASA Gallery, Auckland
Small Works, ASA Gallery, Auckland

Let Them Eat Cake, Artspace Gallery, Auckland
Visa Gold Finalists, touring exhibition, nationwide
Small Works, ASA Gallery, Auckland


Artist in Schools Residency, Kings College, Auckland

Frances Hodgkins Fellow, University of Otago, Dunedin

University of Auckland Doctoral Scholarship

Commission, Kate Edger Information Commons and Student Amenities Building,
University of Auckland

Joe Raynes Masters Scholarship, Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland

International Conference on Creative Thinking, Malta University, Malta. Invited Speaker at Conference; Paper given was titled ‘Creative Thinking in Art Production’. Later reproduced in Creative Thinking – New Perspectives, S Dingli (ed.), Malta University Press, 1996.
Visa Gold Art Awards Finalist

Visa Gold Art Awards Finalist


Sarah Munro, Robyn Pickens, Real Art Roadshow: The Book, Real Art Charitable Trust, 2009
New Zealand Sculpture – A History, Michael Dunn, Auckland University Press, 2008 ed.
‘Sarah Munro – Making Paintings’, Grant Thompson, Art New Zealand 127, Winter Issue 2008
Exhibition review, Harold Grieves, Art New Zealand 128, Spring Issue 2008
Exhibition review, Kathryn Mitchell, Art New Zealand 126, Autuum Issue 2008
Exhibition review, David Eggleton, New Zealand Listener, May 26 – June 1 2007


James Wallace Trust Collection
University of Auckland Art Collection
Hocken Collection, Hocken Library, Dunedin
University of Otago Collection, Dunedin
Real Art Road-Show Trust Collection