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:
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.
Rover Thomas in the desert making art that is of the earth, simple, iconic masterpieces, representing deeply the land he was, he not separate, but a part of a whole intimately felt universe. Traveling overhead in planes, peering from tiny windows many times over the years, looking down into the land of Australia, seeing the red earth in a different way, became the first step for me to see life differently. To stop trying to see the earth with only one sense, the eyes, in a two dimensional pictorial way.
Lying on thick dewy grass in the night, looking up into the velvety blackness, light twinkling from distant planets and stars, but part of it, in it, not separate and observing, but deeply within the great night sky, deeply held by the deep dark earth. How to express this inner knowledge of life. Maybe the ancients have always expressed this and it is we who are now the primitive ones. Modernization and technology seem to have ultimately divided us from each other, our voracious consumerism has meant we are neglecting the earth, and our knowledge comes from others, not ourselves who have separated our senses from their essential connectivity. We are often alone with only the companions of things that have no life.
For months I have been in my studio drawing, trying to feel the earth, be the earth. I have scoured books of ancient art including the art of our Australian aboriginals, sinking into their work, meditating on it, trying to redraw in my own way their sense of the world, because instinctively I know they are deeply connected to all of life and I, too, want to belong.
My sculptures have been going this way for years, looking for the elemental, the spiritual essence of the human being. My drawings have lagged behind, perhaps out of habit in the way I see two dimensionally, I have seen only pictorially with that one visual sense and not all. My challenge was to ‘become’ everything I was trying to express. Recently, I put big slabs of paper on the floor and crawled all over them, black everywhere, a mess, losing perspective. Out of it came the message of Rover Thomas. I have been shamelessly influenced by him and so grateful. I have fallen in love with the rich earth colours that are here just the same in Italy. 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. I have let my figures fall on the paper, anywhere. The spaces between them as vibrant as their own energy that is part of the sky and part of the earth.
Some of these drawings and sculptures were in an exhibition recently at La Rondine Gallery along with the photos and sculptures of Sarah Danays.
I am sitting in the corner looking over a beautiful exhibition of art work by the La Rondine artists in ZZHK Gallery in Hong Kong. We have secured this lovely space over an incredibly busy period in the art month of Hong Kong. Art Basel is next week and so are a number of subsidiary art fairs, all vying for attention, to say nothing of the many galleries, all with their openings every night of the week and even mornings of next week.
Our openings, (we had two, one was a special collector’s evening and the other was an open celebration), were in the lull before the storm. How lucky are we to have had such great attendance. Sandra Walters, art consultant and art dealer, hosted the collectors evening on Monday night. We were sponsored by Absolut vodka so Marc Danays, a master mixologist and partner to one of our artists, Sarah Danays, created the beautiful La Rondine cocktail, using vodka, lychee liqueur, curacao, guava juice, lemon juice and basil – yummo, it was much appreciated on a very warm evening.
As my eye roves the gallery space, I pick up on a powerful photograph by Jacob Cartwright, of a blue naked woman bowed under the chains of industry. Jacob’s technique is really interesting, using photography without computer manipulation, he takes photographs of environments, in this case, HK, and projects them onto his model, then photographs her under special lighting and the projection. The effect is an abstraction of form that creates his emotional connection to life without the seeming objectivity of photography. Jacob lives on the side of a sunny hill in Tuscany, overlooking the plains of Lucca. He tends an olive grove and imports its oil, one of the finest in the world, to America. He was born and bred in the arts and was a gifted child in music. Today he is a composer and photographer. His photography is a visual reflection of his lyrical soul. The story of his four photographs represent the earth mother. The mother reflecting life upon herself, as in ‘Flower’, where she rises like an innocent child from a garden, herself the garden. ‘Chained in Blue’ is industry, ‘Construct’ is the city, ‘Tape’ is man’s creativity. Much of Jacob’s work is about life reflecting on its essence. He loves the reflection.
Interspersed throughout the room are the small photographic portraits of people, many now gone from life, from the village of Montefegatesi. Candido Martinelli is an Italian New Yorker. He lives now, back in his beloved Tuscany, high in the mountains in a picturesque village that was witness to ancient battles between the Ligurians and Romans, and earlier still to the passage of Hannibal and his elephants… The stories in these tiny village top mountains abound and the early days of Candido, were the war years. He was shot through the leg as a young child by German SS hunting down the partisans in his village, Montefegatesi. The people he grew up with in these years are the people in these photographs, scarred and beaten and toughened, like the wild unpredictable mountains they inhabit. Candido’s photographic love is portraiture. He loves the stories of human beings and with great tenderness he expresses this in these works.
Kevan Halson is a meticulous man. Everything he does is with particular attention to detail and knowledge. He lives in an ancient villa in a little village, Granaiola, in the Tuscan Appenine mountains, overlooking Bagni di Lucca, with stupendous views of valleys and rivers and multitudinous layers of mountains on mountains. Despite the grandness of his vistas, he focuses on the intricate details of life and it is perhaps this insight that has inspired his ‘Atrophy’ series. In this area of great natural and manmade beauty, there is a sense of atrophy as the life cycle of the area depletes itself. The young people have left for the cities and the old people have died, leaving behind their old homes that slowly decay as the weather gets in and the floors rot away and the voracious forests eat away the walls. Kevan captures the decay of life with beauty and acceptance. It is simply the phase before new life.
Sarah Danays, mystical and beautiful, her photograph of her created sculpture and installation, is set in a box that makes the image feel like it is floating in the night. A lot of her work comes from specially found objects and antiquities that she amalgamates with her gentle carvings of limbs in alabaster. Her story of ‘The diviner’ has significance as it was created for a beloved friend and fellow artist who died. The sacred Taoist mid-nineteenth century Chinese divination rod was joined into a carved alabaster hand. “I chose to use it, with its dragon head and Yin and Yang symbol, as protection for Mei’s spirit.” The guest photographer for this sculpture is Sinisha Nisevic – a famous fashion photographer. He was personally invited by Donatella Versace to be her Director of Photography in Milan, and has worked for everyone from Prada to Gucci, to Dior…
On a low table beneath ‘Flower’ by Jacob Cartwright, are two abstract organic forms in marble and alabaster, sculptures, by Sollai Cartwright. ‘Snow’ and ‘Twirl’. People have loved them, coming regularly to touch and fondle them, also his ‘Black Bird’ sold to his best collector. Sollai is a young and impassioned carver who lives spasmodically in Tuscany, renting studios in Pietrasanta and sometimes working on the hillside of his friend, Kevan Halson’s land. Currently he is carving black marble imported from Italy on the land of one of his collector’s in Byron Bay, northern New South Wales. “I am an artist because I believe it is the purest form of evolution and, gifted with an eye for beauty, I feel it is my responsibility and my greatest joy to bring new visions of beauty to the universe…..I carve stone because I am a man of the earth. Marble resonates with my soul and I feel that while I carve, I am giving new life to the soul within the stone….” Lovely! We have a beautiful new artist on the earth giving art back to its people.
I have known Michael’s work for many years and always I am challenged with the language of his work and always I am delighted, though my understanding can sometimes take years in formation. Michael Cartwright’s creativity is spontaneous and draws inspiration from his free interpretation of life, he is free without compromise, and it is this freedom that is ultimately human though sometimes forgotten in the rules we place around ourselves. From freedom comes the Bird form. Michael loves the story and his work can be ‘read’ and it is perhaps the bird in his work, for there are many, that reflects the state his spirit is in. Some birds he has created have lain down, ‘Reclining bird’, and seem to have come from a period when he had to rest and wait. He likes contrast with his work, so you will often find the tough and the tender within the same work. Sometimes it is expressed through texture, soft and smooth and rough and lumpy. Sometimes it is through organized, beautifully finished forms and their adhoc arrangement, irreverent of proportion. This exhibition with his work has several beautiful bird forms, ‘Reclining Bird’, Portrait of a Bird’ and ‘Nest’. He also has a large night painting of ‘Whale’ and the ‘Net’, a little gold leaf on bronze sculpture from his fishing series and the woodcut print of the ‘Fish Trap’. Definitely a nature boy!
Finally there is me! I have loved putting together this series of work from the last 20 years of my ‘Woman’ series. The ‘Woman’ series slips in and out of my creative life as I seem to go through life’s different lessons and gifts. I associate the ‘Woman’ with life’s abundance and power, its cycles, its source of creativity. I have a couple of pieces that have just been cast that I am so happy to have in the show. ‘Dance’ and ‘Woman Form’. I love seeing them in bronze, they are finished! They have been in my studio for a couple of years now, adding to the influences of my latest work. I also had two of the three sculptures I created at the CIS Artist Residency this year in the show. They are in plaster, painted to resemble bronze and they will be cast when we get back to Italy. I love the strength of one and the joy in the other. What a great period of creativity and endeavour this has been. In the meantime, Italy is calling. It is late Spring and I can only imagine the untainted blue skies and swooping swallows in all that delicious new bright green…..And a whole season of new exhibitions on at our La Rondine Gallery in Bagni di Lucca…..
La Rondine Gallery is in Hong Kong! Flying like swallows to warmer climes, the nomadic artists of La Rondine Gallery have sent their art to Hong Kong. Seven of us will be represented here, at Gallery ZZHK, a lovely space with an eclectic, almost Parisian character, in a small laneway, Wu Lane, just off Hollywood Rd in Central. The exhibition is from 14th till 28th May. We are really excited. In celebration of our inaugural flight and for the opening night, Marc Danays, a high profile master mixologist, has created the artists’ cocktail and called it La Rondine. Absolut Vodka is sponsoring us and has supplied the vodka for the drink. It’s amazing to have been offered this opportunity to show our work at this high time of the HK Basel Art Fair, when collectors are everywhere about town and all the galleries are pumping.
Our artists are great!! Jacob Cartwright, Kevan Halson, Sarah Danays, Sollai Cartwright, Candido Martinelli, Michael Cartwright, Shona Nunan. They range from 74 years of experience and love for the arts to 24 years of age, the youngest no less for his age. They are photographers, sculptors, painters, drawers; creating marble sculpture and bronzes from the famed studios of Michaelangelo’s Pietrasanta; photography of mountain people, reflections and exquisite atrophy; themes of ancient myth, the human journey, the balance of life; the artist’s hand representing the spiritual beauty of our world culture.
Michael and I have been here in Hong Kong for the last three weeks. We brought over in our luggage huge frames and photographs, lugged them up fifty million stairs to our little room on Hollywood Rd. We also sent over a box of marble and bronze sculptures which have arrived and surround us on every available space in our room. Our room would make a great gallery at the moment, one person at a time to view an amazing selection of art. I love lying in bed at night with the art perched up all around us, the energy huge, and it will be strange to be without it when finally the work goes down into the gallery.
We have been so busy since we arrived here. We have an Artist in Residence at the Chinese International School in North Point. It has been great to be here, in our studios everyday, working . We have heaps of lovely visitors, young students, teachers, parents, cleaners – it has been really beautiful. Every night we almost fall into bed but not before doing all the funny bits and pieces you have to do to get an exhibition ready; press releases, invitations, meetings with sponsors, hunting supermarkets and drink places for ingredients for our La Rondine cocktail, invitation lists….. Our energy gets expanded to the max when we come here.
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.
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.
While we were Artists in Residence in Hong Kong at the Yew Chung International School, Shona created the bronze sculpture, ‘Harvest’, in an edition of eight. The sale of all eight works will go to the charity to help build schools for underprivileged children in China. If you would like to know more about this, please click here to download a pdf. info package for Seeds of Hope and the Harvest sculpture.
Life is a cool thing. Its funny, not everything is meant to be known to you as you go about life’s lessons, maybe if they were, we would be too cerebral about learning, maybe you have to take things in through the osmosis of the emotions, the brain, the body, so that you really know and evolve fully.
The last year has been a truly great year for me in my studio. It has been a bit like a year off to totally indulge in myself as an artist. No exhibitions to look forward to, no projects (promises, but nothing on the table), just me everyday in my studio pushing my boundaries. This year Mike got the projects and at the beginning of the year, he gave me a hug and said, go for it Shona, this year is mine for projects, get into your studio and stretch yourself. So I did what I have never really done before, consciously sought the inspiration that spoke to me most. I dug out books and photos of Cycladic art, visited museums and allowed the work to directly affect me, working directly in the style of its art forms. The work is very simple and plain, oddly proportioned and broad open surfaces. I love these works because they are deeply spiritual and related to the deepest emotions of human beings, the desires for longevity, fertility, protection, abundance. Cycladic works in their utter simplicity, speak to the spirit of mankind through the essence of the art form, not distracted by the beauty of physical reality, not clever or cerebral, but rustic, always speaking to the unformed world of the soul. This work has always attracted me, but I did not know why, until I allowed myself the time to work in it. At first my whole attention was not to copy, but to be influenced by it so that I could reinvent the work. But you can’t do this work in an objective way. It is not form for form’s sake. You have to partake and my woman vessel forms, became not just beautiful forms, but forms that embody abundance, fertility, the cycle of life. They carry the true wisdom of life. And my sculptures are heavily reflective of the Cycladic works, not reinvented at all, because they didn’t need to be, it was more important for me to be true to the spirit in the works, invest them with the essence of life’s desires.
This period of my work has made me understand more fully, what I am searching for in art and it’s why I have also always been attracted to Etruscan art, and some African art. It’s seeking the essence and embodying it in form. I have always been able to see very well, and it is a distraction, as the human form is beautiful, and it constantly calls me back to itself, the unconscious regard for proportion and visual beauty always wanting to take over from the essence of the work. When you look at early Etruscan art, you get work that has complete disregard for proportion, sometimes a deliberate decision to make the body very long, the arms and legs very short and the head a square, even the surfaces are uneven and roughly hewn, but it is a devotional piece, so the work is not about human beauty but about human essence. The work can be really austere, but the work haunts you, disturbing you and attracting you. You need that in art because it is not satisfactory to be beautiful alone, or to play a clever mind trick with you, or tell you a story. You need the recognition of yourself as a spiritual being.
Throughout history there have been the great masters who bring their art alive and somehow embody the spirit, the physical and the mind into a whole. That, for me is the ultimate in art; to capture it all without rules, to maintain the freedom of the artist to create, but to give it all to us, so that we resonate with the whole truth.