Journeys is an exhibition of sculpture at Australia House, London, which offers the work of Australian-born Shona Nunan and Michael Francis Cartwright, along with their sons Sollai and Jacob Cartwright. The works, though diverse in terms of materials and aesthetic, are united by a commentary on, and celebration of life, nature and the universe.
A: Journeys: An Exhibition of Sculpture presents the endless boundaries of the medium, suggesting that the process of creation is a personal voyage. How do you define the notion of “journey” and how does it feed into your work?
SN/MFC: The process of creation is a personal voyage. The voyage is expressed in art through the synthesis of how we profoundly react to life, what we perceive, emotionally, visually, sensually. It is a voyage in how we grow to meet the challenges of our own lives. And then, it is the journeys we take to inspire ourselves, to travel across the great cultures of the world or to just take time to be still and see all that is around you, to just be and to reflect on all that is. Journeys is a movement. It is not stagnation, stopping still without perception, it is an awareness of the steps you are taking towards ultimate transformation. Inspirations from visual awakening and living experiences also influence and augment our visual language, and are part of our ongoing journey of discovery.
A: You all focus on the connection between landscapes and the wider universe. Where do you find inspiration and how do the resulting motifs link to modern day considerations of journeys?
SN/MFC: As a family, our inspiration comes from our relationship and contact with the earth. A connection to earth gives us peace and serenity, allowing us to synthesise the experiences of our life; both the challenges and the growth that comes from being human. Motifs appear subconsciously and are a manifestation of our inner journey in some way, for example Michael’s bird form is linked to his sense of freedom and joy and Jacob’s boat form linked to the passage of life. Our visual language references travel and cultural connections, both ancient and modern. Essentially, these motifs are a deep expression of humanity, and the growth of civilisation. For us, Journeys is particularly appropriate today when so much of the earth is changing and on the move and everyone is seeking to improve their life.
A: As family members, to what extent do you influence each other’s work and practice? What have you learnt since your sons have become sculptors in terms of idea generation?
SN: Influences from each other have been quite a challenge! As a family we have all grown up together, we had Jake when we were 22 and Sollai when we were 29, and those early years were very impassioned, full of ideals and great philosophical discoveries. We would sit around the table with the boys talking about art and what was important, the latest discovery as well as the business of exhibiting the art – it was at the foundation of all of our lives. They (Sollai and Jacob) were always talented young artists and so their thoughts were always on the table too. When we travelled, all of our experiences were about inspiration, reflection, discovery and creative development, from visiting great art galleries to talking about the artists that excited us. So a lot of our influences have come from the same source.
Sometimes that’s hard because you can’t help but feel – no, that is my stomping ground! But in actual fact, you find that because we are growing, you move through that initial outbreak of similarity and your own life takes over, imparting its growing perception in a new way. So perhaps our combined inspiration comes from the same source, but we are all evolving creatively and building our respective experiences into the work. One thing is for sure, with both the boys creating work in similar mediums, new ideas are always being provoked, new ways of expressing ourselves. We find Sollai has an intuition with carving which is quite mature, allowing him to express himself freely and confidently.
Jacob is very open to experimenting with new materials, even though he may never have used that medium before. He understands the symbiotic relationship between idea and medium. For me, I started carving in marble to encourage a new aesthetic – I think Sollai has influenced that – it has allowed me to express a more primal part of myself that wants to be restrained a little from over expression. Michael has explored working on a much smaller scale, developing his tiny cloud series in sterling silver and bronze. It is really important to acknowledge where your influences come from, whether your own experience as individuals, or from each other.
A: Shona, you use bronze casts whereas Jacob, your son, creates improvisatory forms. Why are your practices so different and what does this uncover about the medium of sculpture and its possibilities?
SN: Jacob and I have different processes. I think I am the sort of artist that is emotional. I just want to express myself with the least obstruction. I always loved modelling, so it became my natural and primary tool – bronze casting for me was the best way to preserve the works. Jacob on the other hand is a “renaissance” man as he will often have a whole idea in his head and will just find a means of expressing it – he is open to working across and between different mediums.
In actual fact we all have divergent processes, different ways in which we arrive at a finished work. Whilst all our studios are littered with little earth ‘finds’ from the bush; bones, stones, feathers, ready made materials in steel and plastic that we have put together to create little sculptures, most of us have never shown these as we see them as part of the process rather than the outcome. I think a lot depends on where an artist wants to finish his/her work – is it in that first moment of inspiration or in the final work. All are very important expressions of sculpture.
A: The works use marble, wood and metal, shaped by traditional techniques. Why do you prefer to work with raw, natural materials, creating organic forms instead of adopting artificial materials and incorporating ready-mades?
MFC: If you walked through our studios you might find a different story. We work from a range of materials, some natural, some artificial. The actual materials have never really mattered. Ready mades are wonderful, Jake and I, happily use found objects and work with them, play with them, assemble them. Sollai and Shona tend to surround themselves with findings from their walks, stones, shells, sticks, feathers, bones etc, providing reference points for larger manifestations of the objects in marble or bronze. For Sollai, working in marble is a love affair. For me there is no difference working with ready mades, contemporary or traditional materials. You just have to work with the things you love.
A: Where do you see the future of sculpture?
SN/MFC: Our philosophy has always been that essentially, as an artist you have a vocational gift. It doesn’t mean that you have to live in the garret but it does mean that your focus should be the art and your role as the artist, rather than money or celebrity status. Art represents the essence of civilisation, helping society to develop, learn and become greater, awakening the truth of social depth and character. The folly of manipulating art by big business is simply revealing the collapse of social integrity and materialistic desires of a society, which ultimately is not sustainable. Our belief is that sculpture will evolve past the superficial, because humankind always wants to truly express its great journey, collectively and personally.
A: What other projects / exhibitions do you have coming up this year, both personally or as a group?
SN/MFC: For Michael and I, our most important and exciting project this year, after our exhibition at Australia House, is renovating studios we have just bought in our little village in France. It is a five-storey village house just down the road from our little home. It needs a new roof and staircase and tons of cleaning but it will enable us to sculpt, draw and paint while we are in France, just as we have done in Italy. We also have several large sculpture commissions simmering in Hong Kong at the moment and we are looking forward to a residency at a beautiful farming property in the middle of Victoria, Australia in February next year. This will be followed by an exhibition in Melbourne.
Sollai has several exhibitions lined up in Berlin this year with Hardman Galerie as well as a series of evening soirees with Fre Ilgen. He also has an exhibition coming up later in the year at Mars Gallery in Melbourne, Australia.
Jacob has a space in a studio collective in the centre of Pietrasanta, Italy, where throughout the summer he will be participating in Open Studio events and working on a series of major commissions.
Journeys: An Exhibition of Sculpture is open from 6-16 June at Australia House, London and 17 – 29 June by appointment only.