We are two Australian artists, Michael Cartwright and Shona Nunan, who have been together for over thirty five years. We have been sculpting, drawing and painting since we were children following in the footsteps of our fathers who were painters, but I think we could say that our total commitment to our art came when we went to Carrara, Italy, in 1984, two years after leaving college and recently married. It was that point of no return. We had heard about Carrara and Pietrasanta being the mecca for sculptors. Michael’s old sculpture mentor, Stewart Ross who had been one of the assistants to Henry Moore, pointed us on our way, to be where the greats had been, along with Henry Moore, Michelangelo, Bernini and many others had lived and worked here.
We left behind us the security of family and friends, overjoyed to be free and following at last, our true path. It was a mecca. Arrived, transfixed, standing on the train station of Carrara, awestruck by the unbelievable marble mountains, the crevices cascading with marble debris. All around us were the great carving yards filled with marble and sculptures in the making, the streets rumbling with the huge trucks bearing massive blocks of stone. Dusty artists and artisans were all about us, walking the streets, downing espressos at the cafes, in the trattorias for lunch. It was a magical time. We were very poor, had no hot running water or shower in our rented house in the mountains above Carrara, but we both found studios, Michael in a marble carving yard at first in the famous studio Nicoli in Carrara and later in Avenza di Carrara at studio Bertagnini. I had my plaster studio in the big empty room above our living quarters with an amazing view of the Mediterranean. We felt like we had come home, we were embraced by artists and the local Italians, engaging passionately in the philosophies of life and we were creating every day. We had our first little boy, Jacob, with us and he went to the local Nido, (creche), every day while we worked. We learnt to be self disciplined and we became each other’s greatest critics. It began the great adventure of our life.
It took a few years before we could go back overseas. In the meantime, we kept working at our art in the Australian countryside of Canberra and later Victoria. We had exhibitions in some wonderful galleries: Bitumen River (now known as Canberra Contemporary Art Space ), Holdsworth Galleries in Sydney, Meridian Gallery in Melbourne, Ivanyi Gallery and Renard Wardell Gallery in Melbourne, Mandarin Gallery in Hong Kong and Art 2 in Singapore, Kwai Fung Hin in Hong Kong and exhibitions in Thailand, Belgium, Ireland and France. There were more exhibitions than I can think of now, but eventually we were back overseas again, visiting Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand and China, getting artist residencies in Bangkok, Provence – France, Ireland, and France again and always visiting Italy and dreaming of the day we would return here to live.
One day, in 2002, we bought our little house and studios in the Tuscan mountains, in an ancient medieval village of Pieve di Monti di Villa. We have now access to studios in Pietrasanta where we carve marble and cast our work in bronze at the foundries. These days we also have a little house in Provence, France, where we create our art and gather inspiration.
We have two boys, grown men now. Jacob, a composer, sound sculptor and photographer, is married to Jaqueline from Cape Verde, they live in Italy near Lucca; and Sollai, a sculptor and writer, is married to Danica, an Australian acrobat, dancer and performer, they live in Berlin.
As artists we are inspired and enriched by ancient living cultures. We have lived and made our art in rural and urban Australia, in rustic french farmhouses and village homes in the Provencal south of France, in small villages and great art
towns in the Tuscan marble mountains of Italy, and in pre famine cottages on the wild windswept and luminous western coast of Ireland where we draw and paint
and write. We travel throughout Asia and perch ourselves upon tropical islands to connect with nature, and we have sailed on seas where the balance of survival hangs delicately over the unknown. The beauty, the edge of life in nature, the marks of ancient peoples in the land before us, all inspire and alter our life perception, creating the language of our art. Our art has been described as transcultural as we take from the journey of our forebears to Australia and add to it our own nomadic journeys.
Currently, we live between Australia, Provence and Tuscany where we have our studios.