Author Archive

Here we are in southern Goa, on Palolem beach, sitting in the Nest cafe bar restaurant next to our cabin, fans whirring overhead, an Indian woman doing her telemarketing in front of us, all attached to her headpieces and computer while gazing out on the sunlit sea, the gentle whoosh of waves rhythmically lapping the shore. Burred northern English and Scottish accents penetrate through soft electronic music, peaceful. 

Sitting in the Nest cafe

We woke up early this morning and walked this beautiful bay, our feet sloshing in the shallow waters, cows resting peacefully on the sand, dogs twirling in play and amour. The little fishing canoes supported by their shaggy tree bough arms coming home in the early morning mist with a small catch.  All day we have been swimming and soaking in the warm opaque water of the Arabian sea, drifting to beach lounges and roasting in the sun. Everyday. 

Morning walk

It took us around 1 and a half hours – or maybe 2 hours – to get here by taxi from the Goa airport for around 2000 rupees, about 22 euro. Arriving at our Nest accommodation was easy with really lovely staff greeting us. Our cabin is on the beach and is sparse and spacious with overhead fan, air con if we want, and a refrigerator – which we haven’t used yet because of the bar next door!!

Bloody Mary on the terrace

This is a beautiful place. The beach is about 1.5 kilometres long, curving towards a tidal river. It is lined with copious palm trees and beach huts and bars and the sand is soft and white and walking is wonderful because it is flat with a very slow decline out to sea. Next to our little stay is a sweet clothing shop, owned by Geeta, that we raid every other day for thin summer clothes to tide us over the days and maybe even another summer. Geeta is like a little spark of sunshine intermingling with the guests and staff, telling stories and sharing her philosophy for a good life. She not only runs the clothing shop but she also does hair braiding, henna painting, pedicures….


At night the sand is set upon with tables and chairs and candles and all along the beach people are wandering in the balmy air, children still playing, music competing amongst the bars. After the eating and the drinking and the laughing, the music stops around 10:00 and finally all we hear are the waves coming up closer and closer to our cabin, and all we see are the shooting white lines of the waves breaking in the mysterious dark of the night.

living Tuscany & Provence Nunan-Cartwright
The streets are empty in Correns.

Leaving the house in the shadows of winter, the trees bare and bleak rising toward the cold blue blue sky, we emerge from the village into the light, into the sun, along the narrow roads winding through the rusty vines, filled with wellbeing as we soak that wonderful warmth into our bodies. Locked down in Provence in a corner of the planet so beautiful, how could we complain? 

Our bridge over the river Argens

Our funny little old house, with its up and down floors and rickety uneven stairways, climbs four floors with thick stone walls and is now so warm and comfortable we find it a wee bit hard to go to our more austere studios. It is an act of immense decision to undress there and get into our old work clothes in those frosty rooms, but we soon warm up, sculpture is so physical and we can light a fire on the top floor if we want to be doing something gentler and less arduous. 

Michael is about to start a huge painting. He has been eyeing the canvas for days now, cleaning up his space around it, arranging the enclosure of the space and the heating, messing about, a bit excited and nervous too. He’ll go like a crazy cat when he starts, and I’ll be lucky to get two words from him for days. He has just completed two large sculptures, one of which he intends to be included for the exhibition at the Citadel Museum in St Tropez. He is really happy with his giant ‘Little Bird’ with its joyous face and little raised wing. Perhaps it says something about the feeling we have, like little birds in the nest waiting for our first flight out. We are sort of careful and sort of anxious, not quite sure if we are ready to be ‘out there’, but busting to be free.

In my studio, filled with my sculpted shields, I am inspired by the shield of life, protecting the warrior. I love the shape and form of this shield, it is a bit gothic surrounding the central figure, and it is a bit shell like, with its grooved  patterns on one side and worn and pitted on the other. It also has the immensity of a Zulu shield, there to protect the great warrior completely… it feels ceremonial and I think it comes from my Guardian figures, the feeling of protection one creates around oneself in times of crisis.

living Tuscany & Provence Nunan-Cartwright

Just now and once again, we are in lockdown. We have spent nearly the whole year in our little village and with each lockdown we have gotten to know the place more intimately. Some things have not changed, like the old men, sometimes ten or twelve of them gathered closely on the benches outside the Tabac, most of them in their masks, grumbling away as their glasses get foggy. We are so lucky to have the few shops here open, like the Alimentation, Tabac, the Health food shop and Boulangerie. Everything we need is here. We walk in the countryside and gather mushrooms and herbs, it’s beautiful,  and the people we pass in the street are very kind and friendly. Our french remains terrible and is especially worse behind our masks but once things normalise I am sure our french will pick up again with the inevitable socialising in this very gregarious village full of music and happenings.


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An excerpt from Hugh Becker’s newsletter to friends. 

Hugh and his wife, Debs, took time from renovating their Sussex cottage to make the grand trek over to our village for the opening of the studios.

 Our arrival on the Riviera marked a distinct change of pace from the sleepy idyll of Correns, bordered by the crystal clear River Argens. Planning for our trip to this part of Provence began in February, when Aussie sculptors Shona Nunan and Michael Cartwright emailed an invitation to the opening of their new studios. We replied with alacrity and searched for accommodation the same day. Even so, the nearest bed yet to be booked was some seven kilometres away in the less engaging village of Cotignac. 

Over five stories of a once derelict village centre building, Shona and Michael have created a series of very special places within which to sculpt, paint and display their work. At the typically informal formal opening on Thursday evening, the jovial Mayor of Correns, (Michael Latz), made effusive reference to the added value that such rare injections of renovation, artistic activity and commerce can make to a small rural community. The cosmopolitan flavour was palpable – even more so than at their previous exhibition at Australia House in June 2018 – and the evening made memorable for the richness and diversity of exhibits as well as appreciative friends, clients and agents who filtered up and down the worn, stone stairs from floor to floor. 

Michael’s ‘Reflection‘ in the door of the ground floor

And then, the next evening, came the celebratory party. Parties come in all guises and sizes, but this one was close to perfection. The location was a partly ruined castle-cum-chateau set on a massive mound in the centre of the village. The pre-supper concert and post supper dancing took place in an open air space, no doubt once, while still roofed and furnished, the baronial hall. On Friday the traditional Provençale musicians played flute, drum and a curious hybrid stringed instrument whose parentage owed something to a guitar, cello and violin, being alternately strummed, plucked and caressed by a bow. The music, evocative of the medieval troubadour genre, was punctuated randomly by swifts, shrieking as they flew over our heads in tight formation, flirting with gargoyles and threading through frameless window voids. The overall effect was magical and, later, as Thursday became Friday and stars twinkled in the canopy above, the paved floor seemed to warm to the patter of gambolling feet – some more sprightly than others!

Here, in the heart of Correns, fortunate visitors to Shona and Michael’s studios will discover an effortless fusion, a compelling juxtaposition between the legacy of traditional artisans and cutting edge sculpting. The venerable stone in the vaulted cellars and whitewashed walls of the upper floors embrace a joyful explosion of creative talent, and our abiding memory is one of the ancient and modern in perfect harmony.

To visit the studios of Shona Nunan and Michael Francis Cartwright please make an appointment by writing to:

call +33 (0)7 87 99 22 37

Shona’s ‘Harvest‘ in the Cave (the basement level of the atelier)
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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.

We have a beautiful bald mountain, Prato Fiorito, (field of flowers), up in the Apennine mountains behind our small village. I often write about this mountain because it is so beautiful. It is a steep climb to the top, up a tiny goat track cut into the thick vegetation of grasses and flowers, a verdant feast for the goats and the partridges. We have found a neolithic axe head on this mountain so it is obvious that it has always been a hangout for people forever, up there to observe the clear skies at night and the great vistas to the sea by day. Looking at it from the distance of our village, Michael would often remark on its seeming ability to produce clouds, calling it the cloud factory. You would see the clouds slipping over the peak, resting there lightly, slumping, before falling outwards to the valleys. Sometimes they lean heavy and grey, sometimes they are royal white domes roiling deliciously as they lift up off the steep slopes.

Cloud on Prato Fiorito – bronze  by Michael Francis Cartwright


Michael’s latest series in his work, Clouds, is in harness with his Astronomer series. It comes from the wonder and yearning of discovery, of looking up into the sky, into the universe at night  to observe the stars and planets and constellations sparkling in that mysterious darkness, and then in the day, to watch the passing of clouds, in their hues of white, grey, black, orange and green as they are manufactured over our oceans and mountains. It has become a joyous part of Michael’s work, to reflect on our tiny perspective from earth, on that peripheral moment in nature, just as the ancients did and who were perhaps in higher tune with this evolving nature in the sky, than we are today, cosseted in our homes and interior lives.

Early this year we took a wonderful trip up through France to England. Along the way we stopped at a friend’s lovely town in the Languedoc where he took us through his jewellery studios sharing his influences in his art, his techniques and some journeys into the countryside where he introduced us to the local red marble, called the King’s red and of course, food. Michael was particularly inspired and transfused with delight. It began his tiny series of the clouds on hilltops, using bronze and pure silver and carved jade. He found a foundry near Oxford in England where he could cast his tiny works in bronze and silver and a new journey has begun for him.

Cloud Passing Montefegatesi – Statuario marble and red stone by Michael Francis Cartwright


However, once back in Pietrasanta, with a glorious block of statuario on his banker, a new cloud has been born, definitely a magnificent cumulus as it barely touches the liver coloured stone beneath it. Michael has called it ‘Cloud Passing Montefegatesi’. Montefegatesi is a village beneath Prato Fiorito. This gorgeous cloud gently turns on the hilltop, creating new vistas and shapes and fleeting pictures.

There is something about clouds and their passing, an ode to a life of creation, here and gone, glorious one moment and a wisp the next, at the mercy of winds and sun and water and mountains that stop their passage, forced to rest a moment.

Cloud Resting on a Field of Flowers – Onyx and paint by Michael Francis Cartwright

Mount Altissimo


Everyday we gaze up at Mount Altissimo and its falling debris of marble from the quarries up there. On one of our days working at the studio, an old artigiani, Romolo, pointed out Michelangelo’s cave, a gaping maw in the face of the edifice, known as the Capella, (chapel), where his excavation in 1517 offered the finest whitest marble ostensibly to be used for the facade of San Lorenzo of Florence.


Selecting the marble


Pietrasanta Piazza under tempest sky


We started carving in January, finding our stone in the Binelli marble yard in Pietrasanta and having it delivered to Shakti studio where we set ourselves up under the shelter of the great old mediterranean pines. Winter was beautiful to carve in, so reclusive, not many artists around, the streets empty of the thousands of tourists that invade Pietrasanta in the summer. We would throw ourselves into heavy days of cutting and wedging and pointing, heedless of pain until inevitable weariness would send us into the arms of the Croce Verde where we would tuck into the wonderful pranzo di lavoro, worker’s lunch,  sustaining us for a few more hours before sleep. The joy of it all, of seeing your creations emerge, a little at a time, coming into being, into life, to be loved and touched tenderly. It is what seduces you into the slave you become for marble.


Shona carving a Stella


Michael and I have a beautiful project to create a memorial for a patron and friend that we both loved dearly. The memorial includes her granddaughter who had died too young and they are to be side by side. It is our first collaboration with our art because neither would hand over to the other to do it, equal as we feel. So the art work is the combination of us both and yet not a compromise from either of us. Our friend loved sailing and traveling on cargo ships so it was appropriate to use one of Michael’s boat forms to symbolically take her on the spiritual journey over the universal seas. The boat is hewn from black Marquina marble from the Basque country in northern Spain, its form, heavy, organic and worn, rising gently on a billowing sea strewn with the stars of the night. Michael’s work has always had as one of its themes the boat, signifying the great journey of life. My contribution is the two passengers in white marble, two stele forms inspired by ancient cycladic sculptures and those wonderful stele found all over the world, marking a journey or a significant happening. They are representative of the human life but more about the essence of being and symbolic of the life wisdom of each. They stand like ‘standing stones’ in the rocky boat, facing their journey, calm and stoic, and together.


Arrival of the marble Marquina for the Boat


We have at last arrived at our little provencal cave after a full summer of more carving and modelling in Pietrasanta. We are at rest now in our little house and garden nestling into the side of the castle hill rising gently over the village. The river winding around our village is crystal clear over the stones, slowly flowing and emaciated, it has bared the banks and widened the beaches to paddle from. The land outside the village is exhausted from sun, dry and burnt, yet the lush green vines give lie to the summer heat. So, so beautiful to be here in this peaceful quiet before we start again in the dirty white world of dust and noise filled with the optimism of creation.

completed sculpture

We are honoured to announce the family, Nunan-Cartwright, have been invited by the High Commissioner, The Honourable Alexander Downer, to exhibit our sculptures at the Centenary celebrations of Australia House in London, 2018.

We are so proud to be showing our art in the iconic Australia House, with our two beautiful boys, both men now, and esteemed artists in their own right, Jacob and Sollai. Amazing to be showing as a family and to feel the history of ourselves and the language we have each built up in our art, emerging into this exhibition. Michael and I have been dedicated since we met in 1981 to our path as artists, always allowing our dreams to be our guiding light in our uncertain world. I guess the family lineage of artists on both sides has made it easier to ignore conventional boundaries and we have all pursued a path suited to our own creativity and joy of being.

Our pathways have led us overseas to many beautiful countries where we have been influenced by the ancient cultures and traditions that peek through modern living and also an abundant natural world that connects us to the earth we live on. Currently, Michael and I live between Italy, France and Australia, while Jacob lives in Tuscany, Italy and Sollai lives in Berlin, Germany. As recent Australians, we have somehow emerged artistically free, without attachment to the cultural mores of the civilizations our families left behind from Europe. The culture we had to observe in Australia was the one belonging to the original people and this we have been deeply influenced by, though it is not our own. The source of this culture, its earthiness and honouring of earth, water and sky, has given each of us our strength in our own work, referring always to it and adding to it the significant archetypal meanings of life discovered throughout the world in all the great ancient civilizations.

Thus, with our connection to Australia deeply held in our work, the themes of our sculptures for this exhibition at Australia House honour the elements of earth, sky and water, the essence of our Journeys.

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spectacular light on Cill Rialaig
spectacular light on Cill Rialaig

It is wild.  It has all been wild.  The weather is tempestuous and volatile, changing quickly from a sunny bright blue day to brooding glowering storms and to dense heavy grey fog that submerge the land into nothing, all in one day and all within hours.  The ground is sodden and covered in bright orange bracken or bold bright green grass, soft and lush for the sheep with their coats of several painted colours.  There are many sheep in these craggy hilltops. They merge with the rocks, once the colour of liver, now white with old lichen.  Collected over the centuries, the never ending supply of rocks have partly become a lacework of walls flowing organically over the hillsides and down onto the cliff edges of the sea, containing a vivid patchwork of green and orange lit by turbulent skies.

heavy mist
heavy mist
sheep in the mist
sheep in the mist
a stroke of blue
a stroke of blue
bolus Head
bolus Head
rock walls like lace
rock walls like lace

It has been amazing here.  I think you need the full month to get the full benefit from this experience.  We could have left many times earlier.  We got ‘over’ it, thought we had already ‘got’ it, but here we were, everyday clambering the same hills, thinking we had already ‘done’ this, and yet another revelation would come, another strange connectness to nature and the ancient past and an opening of the creative spirit to discover new doorways for our art.  It is at first hard to appreciate the lack of distractions as at first you actually miss them.  Long nights reading or writing or playing a game or talking when normally you might watch a movie or work on the internet or socialize.  The change of habits has been great for our art as we only seem to talk about our art or this strange land we are immersed in. Hours are spent investigating, imagining ancient peoples, reinventing how they saw the world and in those imaginings, days have disappeared without once thinking about our normal living.

hay collected infront of Cill Rialaig
hay collected infront of Cill Rialaig
ancient monk's cemetery
ancient monk’s cemetery

Noelle Campbell-Sharpe is a larger than life character who, famous in Ireland for her entrepreneurship and her wildish ways, has devoted the last twenty years to saving this small patch of coastline for artists to come and retreat from life.  In amongst the ruins of cottages over the centuries are the ruins of the monks who came here after they left the skelligs around 1000 AD, their bones buried in the much older megalithic round houses or forts.  Noelle has bought all the ruined cottages in the more recent pre-famine Cill Rialaig village and is in the process of transforming them into accommodation for artists creating a trust and protecting the area from the ruinous stamp of tourism and growth.

ring fort Waterville
ring fort Waterville
standing stones Waterville
standing stones Waterville
foundation to old dome house
foundation to old beehive house

We read some great books while we were here, The Chalice and the Blade, written by Riane Eisler and The Megalithic Empire, co written by M. J. Harper and H.L. Vered.  They were so appropriate for this part of remote farmland almost untouched by modern civilization at lands edge.  The scars and marks of megalithic society are still here, and one senses the great mother of the neolithic societies still in the round forts and farmers homes, the little dome houses surrounded by their round protective walls and the sweeping curves of the entrances, even the ancient stone fences add another ring to the spiral, womblike.  We found standing stones at the entrance to the ancient village above us on the hill, all the homes round, rings of foundation stones everywhere.  We read that the neolithic society who lived here were traders so it made sense that there were ley lines reaching from these villages on the sea, from the Skelligs Michael, small islands near us where monks retreated in 500 AD., to Mount Carmel near Jerusalem passing through Mont Saint Michel in France and Monte Gargano in southern Italy (from where the knights Templar departed for the holy land).  The ancients mined copper and gold and maybe even trained and traded crows!  Crows are said to have been trained to fly in a straight line and for this they were used on the pre christian celtic trading ships, kept in the ‘crows nest’ .  The crows were set free when the sailors thought they were near land, noting the direction the birds flew in, and if they returned, there was no land…

Ley line from the skelligs
Ley line from the skelligs – photo from
The Skelligs Michael as seen from Valencia Island
The Skelligs Michael as seen from Valencia Island

I’m afraid this time around our art was not influenced by sheep or crows, worthy though they are. But perhaps because we were so engaged in the neolithic world we saw ourselves in, our art had to capture some of the philosophy of those people.  As we walked in this landscape on the edge of the great sea, the elements of wind and rain and sun our constant companions, we began to feel the oneness of it all.  We did not feel more or less than nature, just part of it.  There was a great feeling of impartiality, that nothing was greater than life itself.  There was a great sense of reverence for life and the dearest wish to protect the earth and preserve it from greed and senseless consumerism. The wish to make life grow, in the same way of those neolithic people with their wisdom of the earth, their home.

sheep on a rock
sheep on a rock
walks in the hills
walks in the hillstomb or ancient doorway to ring fort
last night at Cill Rialaig
last sunset at Cill Rialaig

A short film of Michael hand carving marble at Montsalvat in Victoria, Australia

My ears are aching from the wild ocean wind.  The cobalt sea is peaking in ragged white out beyond the break water.  We are in Warrnambool, a country town in the south of Victoria, in Australia.  Warrnambool is not far from the twelve apostles, the stony giant monoliths cut off from the mainland by the fierce erosion of wind and sea. We are here to install my ‘Guardians’, male and female, 2.4 metres high, for the Warrnambool Art Museum, outside the entrance to the gallery on the Civic Green.

The Guardians have been part of my emerging language as an artist since the time my childish world was happily turned upside down at the age of 10. I was brought up in a slightly unusual family as my father, Brian Nunan, is an artist and was totally supported in all his dreaming by my mother.   One year, he packed all six of us up in an old landrover and trailor and took us up into the desert where we finally settled in a derelict world war 2, concrete army block house across the bay from  Darwin, near an aboriginal settlement.  This period of time brought us in contact with the art of the local people, their corroborees, their connection to the earth and their own earthy characters.  Their art seemed spiritual, with the figures of animals and people drawn in the caves and on bark feeling almost ethereal, as though the real message is their essence.  I was aware even then of how extraordinary it was to be here in Australia amongst a people from an original culture, over 60,000 years old.  Not much had changed till we got here 200 years ago.  So it was still possible to touch that ancient history through the people themselves.  From my perspective as a young girl, this was at odds with the strong physicality and ‘realism’ of the normal life I had come from down south and far from the figurative works of Rodin and Michaelangelo, artists who would become important to me as a growing teenager.

Some years later, when I was 20, I did a trip with my father into the outback to draw and paint and with a mission to find some caves near Arnhem land that he had been to in another year. We didn’t find the caves he was searching for, but we did come across another cave with a gigantic boulder at its entrance. Painted on the boulder were two big figures with their arms and hands outstretched warningly, their eyes huge and dark. To me they felt like ‘Guardians’. It felt as though we were entering a sacred area and these figures were warding away bad spirits.  So, with a feeling of great awe and careful respect we went into the cave and saw the artist’s space, an elevated rock, its surface well worn from the centuries, perhaps millenia, of artists lying in this space, the divits where he crushed his stone and the bits of twigs for painting.  All around the cave on the rock walls were beautiful xray drawings of animals and human figures hunting or collecting or just being. The space felt very peaceful and we left with a feeling of having experienced a profound spiritual connection.  I can’t tell you of the impression this made for me in my life. I return to it again and again in my work,  and I feel the presence of these Guardians always.

The Guardians emerged in my work at first as ‘Night’ and ‘Day‘ and then they became little fecund women figures on hilltops and single figures in the landscape, ethereal figures connecting to the spirit of the land. In other ancient cultures I have found Guardians too. The Etruscans,   the Cycladic Greeks, the Egyptians, the Africans, the pre-Columbians…  The Guardians are amongst the great archetypes of civilization and deep down,  even today, and without hocus pocus, we know we have to protect the things that are sacred to us, our inner selves, our children, our homes. The Guardians at an entrance are saying, come in, but be respectful. For me, these Guardians symbolically represent the balance of life,  they are yin and yang, male and female, conscious and unconscious, night and day.

The unveiling of my sculptures in Warrnambool took place on a mild Saturday, 10th November, 2012.   I had the blessing of aboriginal elder, Mr Robert Lowe, or Uncle Robbie, who performed a smoking ceremony to cleanse the land and the sculptures before their acceptance.  He placed burning gum leaves in front of the sculptures and their smoke billowed around us as we gave our speeches and the sculptures were finally unveiled.  It felt significant to me to have an aboriginal elder here at the gallery whose cultural heritage has influenced my own and in particular these Guardians.

The Unveiling

I am the luckiest person alive to have a patron like Professor Barbara van Ernst, who has been collecting my work for the past 20 years and has recently also bought my work for Hamilton Regional Gallery. Along with John Cunningham, Director of the Warrnambool Gallery, she commissioned me to create the Guardians for Warrnambool Civic Green.  John Cunningham has such a visionary cultural belief in Warrnambool and somehow my art fitted into part of the manifestation.  It is truly a great synergy when artist, patron and gallery can work together to help make culture grow.

Shona Nunan and Professor Barbara Van Ernst with the Guardians