I have some hesitation in saying that I have dabbled in art because although I can look back at a working lifetime of professional work – some 70 years – at which I have more than dabbled. I have only strayed into a few art forms in exploratory ways. This will become evident from a review of my ‘art’ which is obviously amateur but which held sufficient promise on which I could have expended serious effort, given time off from my serious pursuits which obviously commanded my attention. Despite having had 3 successful exhibitions of my sculptures I feel I could have done more in that area.
‘Design’ has held my attention throughout my life – solving problems to serve some useful purpose and which look effortlessly graceful without any intention of following a current style. I would like to think, presumptuous though it might seem, that if my efforts attract attention to the point of copying then that is the start of fashion which is the sincerest form of flattery over which I have no control. I have had no interest in the fashion aspect.
But there is a difference between copying and non-directed exploration of an idea – such as my casual doodling or studies into harmonigrams by light pendulum or later by iterative computer1 when they became possible some 40-50 years later.
My early photograms, wood and metal sculptures, sketches, presentation pieces, ANU prizes, coats of arms, the Burra wheels, gravestone and towers all show that I had some undefined or hidden urge to create objects which had little other purpose than to be beautiful, elegant or graceful.
In retrospect it has been a privilege to be able to conceive and to have the ability and facilities to make such a range of useful and ‘non-useful’ objects.
The human eyes, linked to the hands and brain are wonderful facilitators of beauty and that exquisite essence that somehow transcends beauty – elegance and gracefulness which may even be further underpinned by simplicity – the supreme crystallisation that I have tried to achieve, not always successfully, in my life’s work.
It is a joyful activity to be able to create beautiful things without permission – where nobody can impose restrictions or limits on your thinking (but the material certainly can, and does) and you have nobody to please other than yourself – almost a selfish but demanding constraint.
Useful objects, on the other hand, almost invariably imply a request to satisfy a purpose in which time, money and prestige are constraints that have to be met.
To be really creative is a large element of happiness and I can honestly say that I have had an enormous measure given to me over my creative years.
The downside is that the search for elegance and simplicity also creates an awareness of the reverse – a keen ability to recognise ugliness in all its forms and to be sad at the lost opportunity to be good. Fact or opinion ? Does ugliness induce unhappiness ?
Maybe I should write a book about it !
Sculpture for me started in wood at Langdale Avenue in Oldham, UK in the 1940s, being an easy and clean material to handle in my bedroom, turning to metal in the form of silicon bronze in the 1960s in Jansz Crescent, Canberra which became readily available in the mid 20thcentury in the form of bronze hot water cylinders which had been made redundant because of failure in other parts and also the development of steel cylinders which were cheaper to make. Bronze was a beautiful material to work and finish, but that source has now virtually dried up – luckily I have three cylinders left should the enthusiasm return.
At one time (1980s ?) I joined a bronze casting group which had a foundry in a shed in Fyshwick and I learned how to make my sculpture in wax, make a mould, heat the mould to remove the wax and then cast it in silicon bronze. I still have some pieces in my workshop which await my spare time and resurrected enthusiasm. Unfortunately, my purchase of a computer in the early 1990s has taken over my life and sculpture and retrofitting activities have gone into steep decline – which is sad because I really enjoyed the creative juices flowing in my sculptural work – perhaps when I retire !
I had three exhibitions of my sculptural works which were virtual sellouts with one erection in Commonwealth Park as part of a larger sculpture exhibition in which Ben helped me to erect my 3m high ‘Starburst’ mobile in stainless steel tubing (now dismantled).
The biggest commission I received was to coordinate the sculptural coats of arms for the three courts in the High Court of Australia. (see detailed comment in my Portfolio).