Discovery Fe26 may just shake your belief in what it’s possible to create with metal … Blacksmithing still utilises principles and techniques that have been employed since ancient times, but it’s now a beautiful art form that has evolved significantly over time … Artist blacksmith Stephen Gale shares the inspiration behind this exhibition, which is currently on display at the Glasshouse Regional Gallery …
Hi Steve. What can you tell us about the Artist Blacksmiths Association of NSW (ABANSW)?
The genesis of ABANSW was in Wauchope 25 years ago. A small group of local artists came together, seeking a home where they could work together and share inspiration. The result was that ABANSW was founded in Timbertown, Wauchope. The association has since outgrown our regional home and spread to represent artists from across Australia.
When did your personal journey as a blacksmith begin?
I first had a go as a teenager, making reproduction mediaeval arms and armour. That planted a seed for working metal, as I could see the shapes metal could be made to take were quite amazing. I had a long hiatus when I took up work and family commitments, but my interest never died.
Around 20 years later, I found myself re-enrolling at TAFE to do the Cert III in Blacksmithing and joining the ABANSW. I’ve long since lost the interest in swords and armour, and the seed planted all those years ago has bloomed into using the skills acquired to express myself in metal artworks.
One of your roles with ABANSW is that of Exhibition Coordinator. How did the idea for this exhibition originate?
It’s been a long journey. The first exhibition I participated in was Force, at Manning Regional Gallery in 2014. This was one of several ABANSW has organised over the years. When I saw all the works on display, I was amazed and overwhelmed at how inspirational it was. To see so many styles, so many different ideas and so much expression in steel in one gallery – it was simply incredible.
Since then I have been to Europe and seen similar exhibitions there. I felt it was time we did another exhibition of Australian work; there was no one silly enough to offer to co-ordinate it, so the role fell to me.
The idea for the title Discovery Fe26 was inspired by 2018 being 200 years since John Oxley crossed the range into the Hastings. In so doing, his party were the first Europeans to discover the local peoples and their environment. In return, these people discovered Europeans and their ways. Discovery has positive and negative aspects; the ramifications of this have spread through 200 years and unavoidably persist in our modern society, regionally and nationally.
The artists explore the various aspects of discovery through metal sculpture, this relates to the Fe26 – with 26 being the atomic number for Iron and Fe the chemical symbol.
How do you feel Discovery Fe26 will help change people’s beliefs/expectations where blacksmiths’ works are concerned?
Blacksmithing has long been considered a utilitarian trade – the working of metals to meet everyday needs. Artist Blacksmiths, however, have discovered the beauty that can be wrought from steel by utilising ancient forging techniques.
The material has remarkable sculptural qualities, being plastic like clay while hot, yet rapidly cooling and setting into a tough and resilient structure. The process can be repeated almost infinitely, until the artist is satisfied with their work.
I want people to see that artist blacksmiths can not only produce functional items, but more importantly beautiful expressive artworks, on par with traditional sculpture media such as stone, ceramics and bronze.
The array of works in this exhibition are incredibly diverse – some pieces are small and delicate, while others are extremely large. Logistically, what was involved with bringing all of these pieces to Port Macquarie?
Logistics was quite a challenge – the scale of sizes range from Roberto Giordani’s Decomporsi – a life size shark weighing over a tonne and standing 3 m tall, to Sven Bauer’s delicate Chances – about 500 g and 40 cm long. The artists themselves did a fantastic job in getting their works to Port Macquarie for the exhibition.
At the end of March we’ll have to move them out to Cassegrain’s Winery for display and then to Bellingen in July.
What is Cassegrain Winery’s involvement with Discovery Fe26?
Cassegrain’s has been our principal sponsor, providing wine for each of our opening events and hosting the sculptures on display at the winery from March 20th to July 17th. I think the sculptures will look magnificent installed in and around the winery – a great opportunity to enjoy them while having a picnic basket in the grounds or meal in the restaurant and of course, a drop of their wine!
Bennetts Steel of Wauchope is a long-time supporter of ABANSW and has also sponsored the exhibition with a generous cash donation.
Visitors to the Glasshouse Regional Gallery will also be able to “meet a Blacksmith” upon several occasions, with some free information sessions planned. What are some of the topics likely to be discussed at these sessions?
On the 3rd and 10th March between 10am and 3pm we’ll have some of the participating artists in the Glasshouse Gallery to discuss the work of Artist Blacksmiths. I hope we can take people around and explain the works, point out details of technique and how the artist has achieved the expression they were seeking.
The artists will also bring along a small display of tools and perhaps some photos of themselves at work on projects. It will be a great opportunity to learn about the similarities and differences between steel and other sculptural mediums and why our artists have chosen this medium.
Where can we find out more info?
We also encourage people who are interested in the art to join up – membership is open to all and gives access to a regular journal, forging days, training and upcoming exhibitions.
Discovery Fe26 shows at the Glasshouse Regional Gallery until March 19th, Cassegrain winery to July 17th and then at the Nexus Gallery Bellingen.
Interview: Jo Robinson.