14 Mar

An embarrassment of riches

Words by
Dianne Dempsey
Pictures by
Leon Schoots

Surrounded by nature, this plumber-turned-sculptor is never short of inspiration for his unique work.

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Surrounded by nature, this plumber-turned-sculptor is never short of inspiration for his unique work.

The nesting boxes are all around us, housing kookaburras and robins, sugar gliders and even vulnerable brush-tailed phascogales. Before continuing the tour of Andre Sardone’s studio, we get fixed on the brush-tailed phascogales. How can you resist them? The male dead by 12 months from too much, well, too much “frenzied mating”.

We look up into a tree and see a tawny frogmouth – the pseudo-owls of the forest. I ask why this abundance of life about them? Andre says he and his partner Bridget Finch don’t rake and burn around the trees as their neighbours do. The forest creatures love the undergrowth.

The artist’s Mandurang mudbrick house and studio sit unobtrusively in the state forest and, as everyone knows, it’s been a wonderful time of rain and abundance. “There’s been plenty of snakes this year, as well as spiders,” Andre says cheerfully. A walk around his studio reveals a jacky lizard curled around a sculpture. “Sometimes at night, when we’re lying in bed, the bats fly in over our heads.” (I let that comment go by.) We move to the settees on the large undercover veranda to drink coffee and talk about his work. But before doing so, Andre considerately checks under the settee for the brown snake that was seen last week worrying his dog. I notice for the first time a giant wood moth that must be about 10 centimetres long, the wind nudging its fragile wings.

That the environment is constantly influencing Andre’s work would be stating the obvious. His latest theme, a profusion of shimmering orbs, are made of recycled materials such as mattress springs, steel rods and stainless-steel discs. The orbs, which hang in his studio, under the eaves of the house and from branches, are expressions of life, of energy, air and movement. Andre wants everything to move. Walk up to any of his pieces and give it a tap, send it spinning or turning. Nothing rests and when it does, it settles into an agreeable shape.

Andre’s artistic instinct is to make sculptures that are original. “I like to find a point of difference,” he says. “I don’t like doing multiples. I keep evolving and learning, I don’t know what the end goal will be. So many ideas occur to me and I only have time to fulfill maybe one in every 20. I experiment and learn. I have an idea and realise it.” As an artist, Andre is suffering from an embarrassment of riches.

He didn’t go to art school and doesn’t refer to his work in traditional art theory terms. He says he has a “visual aesthetic”.  “I have an idea and realise it.”

In essence, his art belongs to his ability to change the shape of the material he uses. A roofing plumber by trade, Andre comes to his art with the skills of his trade - skills that have exponentially increased according to the demands of the recycled material he happens to be using. A turning point for him came some 18 years ago, when he was at a building site sheltering in his ute from the rain, reading the Herald Sun. (There was no mention of a pie or chocolate milk.)

“I saw a picture of Albert Tucker’s ‘The Futile City’ and I thought, I can replicate those colours and lines. I worked with Colorbond, I was a tradesman and I was bored.”

Andre’s first step into the art world still hangs in his studio. He would never give it away as it’s too significant for him. The Colorbond version of ‘The Futile City’ – with its eerily precise match between material and concept – earned Andre much recognition but not necessarily acceptance by the art world. He exhibited in Melbourne in 2003, 2004 and 2005, but he always returned to his work as a roofing plumber; although not so much these days.

In 2006, he and his wife and three children travelled around Australia in a bus. “We came to Bendigo in 2007 and happened upon the land in Mandurang, or rather, the land found me.”

In 2013, he re-partnered with photographer Bridget Finch, with whom he will be sharing his next exhibition. “She will sit for hours under a tree amongst that undergrowth waiting for a bird to come her way. Bridget started by drawing birds but she has a great eye for photography.” Together, the couple have a richly textured life. Of an evening, Andre enjoys cooking while Bridget will play the piano or work in the garden.  

Andre’s work is currently in several galleries but his goal is to put bigger sculptures into bigger spaces. Among several projects he is working on are steel sculptures that can be taken apart and then reassembled for installation.

“My children are pretty much launched and these days I’ve got more time, ambition, skills, energy and ideas. I can go in different directions. It’s a wonderful place to be,” he says, smiling.

He says he has been highly motivated by the experience of participating in the Emporium Creative Hub Incubator program. “It really gave me confidence; helped to realise that what I’m doing matters and is valued.”

This year, in the forest that surrounds his home, there is more of everything and Andre Sardone is responding with joy to the abundance.

Supported by the City of Greater Bendigo’s Artists on View program, Steel Life is an exhibition of sculpture by Andre Sardone and photographs of nature by Bridget Finch, and the crossover between the two.

Running concurrently at the same venue is Andre Sardone’s Shimmer, an installation of explorative, whimsical, kinetic sculpture made from waste materials.

This is supported by the COGB Creative Recovery Activation Fund.

The exhibition will run from June 19-27 at Dudley House, Bendigo.