I arranged to meet sculpture student Sian Watson at the School of Music café, and as I hurried past Kevin the amazing barista wafting in coffee aroma, it occurred to me- I don’t actually know what she looks like, how will I find her?
‘Hey Sian, I’m at the School of Music café, but where are you sitting? And- sorry, but what do you look like?’
‘Long red hair, blue jumper, table near the window’ Several text messages back and forth and I finally found her. What she didn’t mention was her gorgeous country-welcome smile and generous laugh.
Sitting down to talk to Sian was a treat for me. I’m a painter and know very little about sculpture or three-dimensional works of art.
Q: Sian you’re obviously a very creative person, but what is it that draws you to the medium of sculpture?
I have always been a practical, hands-on person. I grew up on a farm and still spend a lot of time outside, often horse riding. Originally, my first preference when coming to art school was painting but found that three-dimensional work and the range of materials I could use to create with were too tempting.
Q: Your sculptured pieces have a freshness and immediacy, although your process must take many hours. I love the sensation of the maker’s mark in your work. Come on Rusty your Sculpture in the Paddock entry won the Inaugural Yass Soldiers Club Encouragement Award. What intrigues me about this piece is it feels like you molded it with your bare hands. Is that sense of the artist’s presence in your artwork important to you?
Ohh that title, Come on Rusty is going to haunt me forever! Yeah, this presence is evident within most of my work. My sculpture piece at Yass was constructed by a process in which I lay foil over wet plaster and create crinkles where skin naturally folds, such as under the legs. This process directly responds to my touch as each corrugation occurred through response to my hand.
Q: With your work at Sculpture in the Paddock did you do preliminary sketches first? Or did you go straight into the workshop and experiment with materials and concept?
I hardly ever do sketches. Occasionally, I do a few stick figure drawings to get the general movement or gesture, but usually I just work it out as I go. When I do get really stuck I make a little clay or wax model. I test material is the same way, for example I was using fibreglass and resin.
Q: How important is scale to your work?
I have huge diversity in my work when it comes to scale. This year I made horses that stand larger than life, but I also scaled down to make pieces you could hold in your hand. I tend to make work the viewer has a bodily interaction with.
Q: As a painter I have a preferred medium to work in, do you have a preference for working with a particular material?
I tend to swap and change materials all the time between things like fabric, plaster, steel and clay. However, my work has a particular aesthetic which I have dubbed my visual appendix. I derive many of my processes from the landscape with reoccurring themes of life, death, time and decay. From the environment I also collect natural materials and often manipulate them to develop my work or convey concepts. These materials include things like soil, animal hair and debris.
Q: Your work has reality and feels very authentic and yet it has an unconventional perspective. How do you visualize and construct your three dimensional pieces? Is there a process you always work through?
I work very intuitively when I make my creatures, however I do have an imagery and way of making which unifies my practice. The depictions I make of animals with flat backs and faces infused with gesture and movement are important to me because they stray from anatomical realism. They sit between the world of abstract and the long history of accurate representations of dogs and horses.
The construction is the intuitive part of my work and grows from the framework described above. I enjoy the manipulation of material and the evidence of my hand and pressure, which is often reflected in the materials I use.
Q: Tell me how you were influenced by your time spent in Indonesia last year.
I spent a month living in a remote village in Halmahera, Indonesia. This was an anthropology course as part of my double degree and a life changing experience. The community shared everything, which was so humbling, and to many in the village I was the first foreigner they had ever met, with many eager to learn about my life in Australia. I was telling one man about how I owned horses and he questioned what I did with them. Unsure of how to reply, I answered that my horses were recreational to which he asked ‘Do you milk them’? Amused by his inquiry caused me to reflect on the schemas I have about animals and how I classify the productivity of horses. This experience directly resulted in a work entitled Drongo which is a larger than life horse which has an excessive number to teats which along its torso.
Q: Do you have a contemporary artist who inspires you?
I draw inspiration from all over the place. My own experiences are the most prominent in conceptualizing my work but I draw on how other artists depict animals. At the moment I really love Jackie Ralph’s Horse Staring Out to Sea, which was a prizewinner at the Lorne Sculpture Biennale last year. I am hoping to participate in this exhibition in the future and other major sculpture events now I have finished my degree. I am looking forward to having time to experiment further with materials and create more creatures.
Thanks Sian !