Born in 1946 in Kawakawa, Aotearoa, King attended Wellington Polytechnic School of Design in 1963, Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland in 1964/65 and Chelsea Art School, London in 1979.
King began focussing on sculpture in the mid-1980s, and has worked in stone, bronze, aluminium, stainless steel, earth and wood. Underlying her practice is a concern for the environment, a passion for words and an interest in natural history and micro-organisms, that inspire and inform her work. Her work evolves through exhibiting in galleries and creating site-specific work placed in the environment. In 1995 she created a series of floating works and has since undertaken several private commissions in which she has designed ‘bridgeworks’ and walkways across swamps - one, Raupo Rattler, with percussive devices producing sound that intensifies at a central point along the route - and earth-based landform sculptures.
King’s sculptures have ranged from domestic scale to the monumental. Many works comprise sections which have been joined by hinges, copperwire, wooden pegs or woven twine. This technique harks back to ‘artist’s books’ she made in 1982, with thin wood pages, and was also used in floating works such as ‘Am I Telling Lies’, 1995, based on words spoken by Mohi Tawhai, during the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.
In previous artworks King has used quotations from poets Federico Garcia Lorca, T S Eliot, Octavio Paz and Hone Tuwhare and from American environmentalist Rachel Carson. She has created suspended works, works to be floated at the mercy of the tide, or to be freestanding, intricate artist’s books and altar pieces.
Among her public commissions are the Rewarewa Creek footbridge in Waitakere City, the Tree of Life sculpture at Auckland’s AUT foyer, Five Fronds, Massey University, Albany, Nikau Vessel (a 5.5m high aluminium/stainless steel sculpture) in Hastings, Kauri Forest Canopy and Forest Floor at Botany Town Centre and Reed Vessel, (a 6.5m x 18m stainless steel sculpture incorporating flowing water, mist and words by Australian poets) situated in recreated wetlands in the Melbourne Docklands. Collaborative works include the concept design of Aramarama, the Mission Bay Millennium footbridge, and Westwave, the Waitakere City Aquatic Centre. There are three videos available on her work: Passage (1995), Styx (Sticks) (1997) and Antarctic Heart (2001).
In 1998, King participated in the opening exhibition of the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre in Noumea and her Limpet-Shrine won the Jane Campion Memory Award for Site Specific Sculpture at the Cultural Olympiad, Sculpture by the Sea, Sydney. She was awarded an Artist to Antarctica Fellowship in 1999, the same year the Whangarei Art Museum presented ‘Tideline-Sculpture, a ten year survey’ on her work. King's sculpture Pupu Harakeke won the Peoples Choice Award at the inaugural Stoneleigh Sculpture in the Botanic Gardens, 2007. She has twice won the Peoples Choice Award at Sculpture on the Gulf, Waiheke Island, Matiatia Frond 2003 and Nautilus Whispers, 2007. Her work Sliver was purchased in 2008 for Broadway Newmarket, Auckland. King does commissioned work and exhibits regularly in solo and group shows nationally and internationally. In 2005 David Bateman Ltd published a book about her work Virginia King Sculptor, ISBN 1-86953-615-0
The David Lange Memorial was conceived as an outdoor room, a tranquil space for contemplation and reflection. The room was created by recessing the courtyard in the land, embraced by mounds of earth, native planting and large boulders.
Sixteen poles, representing the community, surround the courtyard and support a suspended vessel, completing the enclosure of the space.
The Vessel form references the Otahuhu portage route between the Waitemata and Manukau Harbours. Oriented East - West the form symbolizes the passage of life and alludes to cycles of time, to sunrise and sunset.
Visitors enter the Memorial courtyard from Mason Avenue where they can stand under the Vessel or sit on the large boulders that edge the courtyard. Four steel poles support the overhead vessel. The remaining twelve timber poles, have a series of stainless steel bands with laser cut images representing the diverse Otahuhu Community.
David Lange was known as a man of words and both sides of the vessel are laser cut with text. The words on the North side were selected from the former Prime Minister’s maiden speech to parliament and on the South side are selected excerpts from his Oxford Union Debate.
Beneath the Vessel, is a ‘shadow’ of the Vessel form above listing David Lange’s attributes engraved into basalt:
Love, Mana, Justice, Passion, Humour, Courage, Confidence, Compassion, Integrity, Morality, Honour, Aroha, Hope and Wit.
The project required considerable community consultation before King was ready to begin detailed design.
“I spent around eight months in consultation with the Otahuhu community, local Iwi, representatives from the Pacific Island, Indian and Asian communities, members of David's family, friends and David’s brother Peter Lange - to listen to their wishes and understand what was important to each of them. They offered generous input into the selection of symbols for the pole iconography, and also about the plants and landscaping materials that would best represent their cultures’’.
Virginia King 2009