While we were in Pietrasanta working on commissions earlier this year we met up with Sarah Monk from Materially Speaking. Sarah created a podcast where artists get to tell their stories through their materials. She has been interviewing many of the artists working in Pietrasanta, including our family.

Sitting in a small park adjacent to the central piazza of Pietrasanta, in the shadow of Michelangelo’s church tower which hourly tolls its bells, Shona shares her thoughts, stories and her philosophy of art through her guardians, the ancient and archetypal man, balance in life, and her embrace of ‘Woman’.

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This is where it all began, I came across these amazing Aboriginal cave drawings while on walkabout with my father, Brian Nunan, an artist, near the border of Arnhem Land in 1979.
Sentinels on the Wall. I have always seen these as massive sculptures standing guard on clifftops overlooking the sea.
I feel the Earth colour in my whole being, I can smell in its dark smoky browns its woodiness, its mustiness, in the reds I feel the abundant bloody fertility, in the ochres I feel the sun and warmth and light.
Sacred Woman. Honouring the sacred woman. She is the earth, she is the reminder of the seasons, the cycles of life, of miraculous fecundity.
Woman Triptych. Representing the cycles of a woman’s life, the virgin, the mother and the crone. Together they are one.
Arrival. The Horse and Rider is one of the most important themes in my work. I am influenced by old Swedish carvings of horses, from African wood carvings, from Italian artist Marino Marini and of course from the great Chinese ceramics of horses. I associate the journey of life with horses and their riders. For me it is significant that at every plateau in my life I create another horse and rider. ‘Arrival’ came at a time when I felt I had arrived at the top of a mountain. The hard slog of the climb surpassed by the calm and glorious victory of arriving, the view splendid, and the possibilities, endless.
Arrival.
Manifestation. Horse and Riders represent to me, the journey of life. ‘Manifestation’ was one of the earliest horse and riders. For me it represents the rider releasing the dream, the bird in her hands, and the belief that that the dream will manifest in life. They are a youthful blend of optimism and joy.
The Quiet. For me, the horse and rider represent the journey of one’s life. There are many plateaus along the way of life and I guess, that as I experience them, I create a new horse and rider. ‘The Quiet’ is a piece that comes from a time in life of peace, of meditation of being in tune with one’s inner being. The rider and horse are at one, the horse is strong and sturdy and is trusted by the rider, the rider is at one with the horse and at one with life.
Sun Warrior. Sun Warrior is inspired by Cycladic and early Greek sculpture and above all by the burgeoning strength and power of a young boy turning into a man. These adolescent years are warrior-like as the young man destroys his boyhood and fearlessly engages in the new journey, ready to fight at any moment for his freedom. The Sun Warrior is a symbol that is important to me, because the warrior in his/her highest form, is always needed to destroy outmoded parts of living.
Joy. Joy comes from my Horse and Rider series representing for me the different plateaus of life experiences. I created Joy while I was working on a lovely commission to create a series of three acrobats. It was a time of complete happiness and contentment, creating, feeling incredible wellbeing. The Rider is a bit like the acrobats I was working on. I loved at the time, the Chinese inspired outfits that gave a wonderful almost geometric form to the figures, instead of being closely anatomical. I loved the feeling of the balance of acrobats and here the horse who is strong and solid and dependable allows the rider to throw his arms and legs wide open in an expression of absolute joy.
Earth Guardians. My Guardians have been a part of my work for many years, inspired at first from an amazing trip when I was a young girl, into the outback with my father, (who is also an artist). We discovered caves that were sacred and guarded at the entrance by formidable guardian figures. They stayed with me as an important symbol of protection and safety. My work with Guardian figures over the years have developed from almost realistic male and female figures to these forms today that resemble shield like male and female forms. My inspiration comes from African and New Guinean shields, huge New Guinean masks, leaves, shells and seed pods, sticks, and in particular for the male form, a portion of a tortoise shell, with its beautiful markings and inner rib creating its strength.
These new Guardians have been recently commissioned and will be in an edition of three. In different forms they have been a part of my work from almost the beginning. They emerged first as ’Night’ and ‘Day’ and then became little fecund women figures on hilltops and single sentinels in the landscape, ethereal figures connecting to the spirit of the land. I have been influenced by ancient cultures where I have found archetypal forms of Guardians or sentinels too; the Australian aboriginal cave paintings, the Etruscans, the Cycladic Greeks, the Egyptians, the Africans, the pre-Columbians… For me Guardians are a symbol of our need to protect ourselves from invaders of our lives, to protect our consciousness and unconscious, our homes. My Guardians are often male and female, the balance of life, representing the ‘yin and yang’.
She comes partly inspired from a recently found ancient weathered stone cross in a field in Cornwall and adds to the cross like forms I love, such as ’Torso’ and in the outstretched arms of the rider in ‘Joy’. My drawing style is also influencing this work, the linear build up of an image, the feeling of it glowing with light and dark. The deep linear incisions in the torso form gives a feeling of pulsating energy. She is part of my Woman series.

Sarah Monk MATERIALLY SPEAKING

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Artist Brian Nunan – Shona’s father


PAST EXHIBITIONS

CONVICTS Michael Francis Cartwright

ANCESTORS Shona Nunan

BIRDS Michael Francis Cartwright

WOMAN Shona Nunan

WATER Michael Francis Cartwright