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.
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:
Un extrait du bulletin d’information de Hugh Becker à ses amis.
Hugh et son épouse, Debs, ont pris le temps de rénover leur chalet de Sussex pour faire le grand trekking jusqu’à notre village pour l’ouverture des studios.
Notre arrivée sur la Riviera a marqué un net changement de rythme par rapport à l’idylle endormie de Correns, bordée par la rivière Argens, d’une clarté cristalline. La planification de notre voyage dans cette partie de la Provence a commencé en février, lorsque les sculpteurs australiens Shona Nunan et Michael Cartwright ont envoyé une invitation par courriel pour l’ouverture de leurs nouveaux ateliers. Nous avons répondu avec empressement et avons cherché un logement le jour même. Malgré cela, le lit le plus proche à réserver se trouvait à environ sept kilomètres de là, dans le village moins attrayant de Cotignac.
Sur cinq étages d’un bâtiment de centre de village jadis abandonné, Shona et Michael ont créé une série de lieux très spéciaux pour sculpter, peindre et exposer leurs œuvres. Lors de l’inauguration officielle typiquement informelle du jeudi soir, le jovial maire de Correns (Michael Latz) a fait allusion à la valeur ajoutée que de si rares injections de rénovation, d’activités artistiques et commerciales peuvent apporter à une petite communauté rurale. La saveur cosmopolite était palpable – encore plus que lors de leur précédente exposition à Australia House en juin 2018 – et la soirée a été mémorable pour la richesse et la diversité des expositions ainsi que pour les amis, clients et agents qui ont filtré de haut en bas les escaliers en pierre usés du sol au sol.
Le’Reflet’ de Michael dans la porte du rez-de-chaussée
Et puis, le soir suivant, est venue la fête de célébration. Les fêtes viennent sous toutes les formes et dans toutes les tailles, mais celle-ci était proche de la perfection. Il s’agissait d’un château-château en partie en ruine situé sur un monticule massif au centre du village. Le concert avant le souper et la danse après le souper ont eu lieu dans un espace en plein air, sans doute une fois, alors qu’il était encore couvert et meublé, dans la salle baroniale. Vendredi, les musiciens provençaux traditionnels jouaient de la flûte, du tambour et d’un curieux instrument à cordes hybride dont la filiation devait quelque chose à une guitare, un violoncelle et un violon, en étant alternativement grattés, plumés et caressés par un archet. La musique, évocatrice du genre des troubadours médiévaux, était ponctuée au hasard par des martinets qui criaient au-dessus de nos têtes en formation serrée, flirtant avec des gargouilles et se faufilant à travers des fenêtres sans cadre. L’effet d’ensemble était magique et, plus tard, alors que le jeudi devenait vendredi et que les étoiles scintillaient dans la verrière, le plancher pavé semblait se réchauffer au rythme des pieds de gambader – certains plus vifs que d’autres !
Ici, au cœur de Correns, les heureux visiteurs des ateliers de Shona et Michael découvriront une fusion sans effort, une juxtaposition fascinante entre l’héritage des artisans traditionnels et la sculpture de pointe. La vénérable pierre des caves voûtées et les murs blanchis à la chaux des étages supérieurs embrassent une joyeuse explosion de talents créatifs, et notre mémoire est une des plus anciennes et modernes en parfaite harmonie.
Pour visiter les studios de Shona Nunan et Michael Francis Cartwright, veuillez prendre rendez-vous en écrivant à :
call +33 (0)7 87 99 22 37
Traduit avec www.DeepL.com/Translator (version gratuite)
It was an honour to be invited by the Australian High Commissioner, Hon. Alexander Downer, to exhibit as a family at Australia House in London and to help celebrate its 100 year anniversary.
images courtesy of Chris Tubbs
and Australia House
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.
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 nightto 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What an outstanding twelve months it has been for us. The challenges have been huge, and the outcomes great. We have loved 2016.
We started in January with Montsalvat in Eltham Victoria, a lovely humble art residency where we hand carved marble left behind from an old lecturer friend 30 odd years ago. We donated these works to Montsalvat and installed them in the garden grounds in December this year.
On our arrival back to Europe in April, we started another art residency with Bei Wu sculpture park in Germany. Here we installed four of our large commissioned works, ‘Journey of the Sage’ and ‘Reflection’ by Michael, and the ‘Guardians’ and ‘Arrival’ by Shona.
During our residency in Germany we created a major body of work we are proud to have cast in bronze in Pietrasanta for our show at Mossgreen in November.
During the year Michael received a beautiful private commission to realise an old special work, ‘Fishing Over Uluru’. He created a bronze 2.5 metres high from his original maquette from 1992.He created it first in wax in the Pietrsanta foundry studio, before casting it at the foundry.It was installed in a lovely garden on the Melbourne Peninsula in November.
Shona received another great commission from Swires in Hong Kong for her Male Guardian figure, soon to be installed at the Alassio Residence in Mid Levels. It is a companion to the Female Guardian figure, commissioned a year ago, for adjoining garden at residence Arezzo.
Throughout the year we have been talking to the family of our beloved friend and patron who has passed away, We are
creating a private memorial sculpture for her and her grand daughter. It is the first time we have worked together on our art. Michael is creating from one of his great boat forms with Shona’s work of two stele figures perched on top. This work has now started as we are here in Pietrasanta beginning the journey of carving in collaboration.
A short film of Michael hand carving marble at Montsalvat in Victoria, Australia
Sollai, our youngest son, arrived in Bagni di Lucca just before Christmas last year after a year in Montreal with his acrobat girlfriend, Danica. He had spent the year working on log cabins, stone chimneys and gardens up around the lakes and creating his sculpture carving alabaster and marble, in his city studio. Even though the experience was wonderful, bringing him in contact with an abundant wild life and contributing to the language of his art, trying to make money to live and still do his artwork frustrated him enormously. Then, to his enormous good fortune a lovely collector was encouraged to sponsor him in Italy to carve in one of the most renowned marble carving studios, La Cooperativa, in Pietrasanta for three months over the winter. Lucky Sollai! He was given accommodation, studio, stone, allowance and tools in exchange for artwork created there. More importantly, he was in the mecca of marble carving and had access to the knowledge and advice of some of the most experienced artisans in Pietrasanta – or in the world.
Michael, at the same time, took the opportunity to be with Sollai and rented a studio space in Studio Shakti in Pietrasanta for a couple of days a week. They’d meet up for lunch in the Croce Verde where they would devour a huge three course lunch with wine, water and coffee for ten euros each. After work they’d find a little bar to hang out and relax in, warming up after a long day in the cold. Mike got some great work done. I think he was a bit rapturous to be carving in marble again after so many years since the car accident when he was unable to do any heavy work. He actually forgot in his enthusiasm, the weights of stone. An average size piece, 90 x 90 cm, weighed about 180 kilos, fully realized when it came time to move it.
On one of the days returning to the studios to work after a weekend in Bagni di Lucca, Mike took Sollai up over the mountain pass from Castlenuovo to Pietrasanta. On the way they detoured up another mountain to buy carving tools from the ancient Milani factory in Pomezzana. This factory has been in the family for either 900 years or 9 generations – hmmm – our Italian is not that good! Nevertheless it is believed this same factory was making tools when Michaelangelo was in Pietrasanta. We visited this factory 30 years ago when we first went to Carrarra. In those days the factory was above the village and it is still there but now it has expanded and its extension is down on the road below the village. Its a wonderful experience seeing how these tools that have never changed continue to be made, though in slightly better conditions.
In the meantime, Sollai created a beautiful carving for his collector. Its size came to about a 100 x 100 x 40 cm in a a beautiful soft dusty pink Portuguese Rose marble. Sollai’s influences for his art are very organic and natural forms often found on one of his roving walks. This piece is also organic but is also reminiscent of the Ligurian figure heads and they must have lain dormant in his head because he has seen them on his journeys back and forth to Italy since he was a teenager.
‘My most loved expression is in the carving of stone. For me it is my prayer. Hours and hours listening to the rhythm of chisel and hammer bring me to a place of no return. The creation of form, the seeking of light within marble, its voice is the spirit of the earth and its poetry is infinite.‘ Sollai