We are two Australian artists, Shona Nunan and Michael-Francis Cartwright, who have been together for around 40 years. Our studios are in Provence, France and Tuscany, Italy. 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, Marino Marini and many others who 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 the artists in the garrett, 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 Canberra Contemporary Art Space ), Holdsworth Galleries in Sydney, Meridian Gallery in Melbourne, Ivanyi Gallery and Renard Wardell Gallery in Melbourne. We have been with Sandra Walters in Hong Kong for over 25 years showing at the Mandarin Gallery and Exchange Square and with Art 2 in Singapore. We had exhibitions in Thailand, Belgium, Ireland, France, and have been artists in residence at Mas des Graviers in Southern France, Cill Rialaig Art Project in Ireland, Yew Chung and CIS colleges in Hong Kong, Montsalvat, Australia and Bei Wu Sculpture Park near Berlin.
One day, in 2002, we bought a little house and then studios in the Tuscan mountains near Lucca with access to Pietrasanta where we carve marble and cast our work in bronze at the foundries.
In 2015 we bought a home in the little village of Correns, France, inland from Saint-Tropez. We have now renovated an old village home of five floors into our dream studios.
We have two boys, grown men now, and both sculptors. Jacob’s studio is in Pietrasanta, Italy and Sollai’s studio is in Berlin.
As artists we are inspired and enriched by ancient living cultures. We have created our art in rural and urban Australia, in rustic french farmhouses, 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 have sailed on seas around Papua New Guinea, and the wild Northern Sea, 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 journey. This year we were invited to become members of the Royal Sculpture Society and in June 2018 our family was invited by the Australian High Commission to help celebrate its 100 years in the United Kingdom at the magnificent Australia House in London with an exhibition of sculpture titled ‘Journeys’.
You are always welcome to visit us in our studios but please call first to be sure we are home!