Australian Fine Artist

Stu James

Painter, Sculptor, Printmaker, Conservator

Artist Talk at Chisholm TAFE

Here is a little about Stu: Australian sculptor Stu James completed a TOP year at Box Hill TAFE and followed that by completing a Bachelor of Arts in sculpture at the Victorian College of the Arts in 1988 and has worked as a conservator at the National Gallery of Victoria. Stu has held solo exhibitions in Melbourne and Sydney since 1990 and has been included in group exhibitions at the National Gallery of Australia. He is best known for his sea sculptures, and has received commissions from the Melbourne Cricket Ground and Southgate in Victoria. He was awarded the Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch travelling fellowship in 1992. His work is held by the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne and the Australian Museum of Sport, also in Melbourne. A master craftsman, Stu creates intricate, delicate works from beaten copper.

The Talk

Stu started off his chat by stating that for him his art is his business. With his obvious country background, by his speech, I knew I was going to enjoy listening to him straight away!

Stu doesn’t rely on grants for income, he relies on earning income. He creates art to sell and has been running his arts practice for near to twenty five years. He has had commissions, sold directly from his studio and has been represented by galleries. The most current gallery selling his work is Australian Galleries in Collingwood. They have a very good reputation for working with their artists so that everyone feels comfortable with the commercial arrangement.

With his background in the country, Stu works from what he knows and has experienced. His fondness for camping and fishing and the wildlife that brings him into contact with is beautifully shown in the lifelike characters of his seagulls and blue wrens. He brought in a couple of the wrens which we were allowed to pick up and examine. They were stunning.

For Stu the secret of his work is not over thinking it. He researches the safest and best way to work with materials or to use them to create an artwork and is aware of which materials are safest to use for OH&S reasons.

We looked at a lot of artworks photographed over the years and the standard was always very high. I also noticed that the themes of his works have returned over and over as he has revisited them for new pieces. Even with growth and improvement in technique, the love of his environment and fondness for family and his personal memories were obvious.

For me also living in a rural setting, the seagulls, magpies, water hens, wrens and marsupials were very familiar. They were also subjects which I could relate to and enjoyed seeing not only as an artists but also as an animal lover with particular regard to our Australian wildlife.

Stu talked about the isolation of working as an artist in the studio for hours at a time He said the friendly rivalry of a local artist who works with plastic rather than the copper he uses, and impending exhibition deadlines helps keep him grounded, motivated and socialising.

The work produced can be from very small pieces to quite large ones, requiring a filling to be poured into them to help make them strong and stable for showing outside. Stu uses a combination of welding and pop rivetting to join his moulded metal which is beaten into shape to match cardboard stencils made from wrapping them around wire frames, that are the inside structures (or skeletons) of the works. He has a special mix to add oil paint to to help it dry and be ready for sanding back to help reveal some of the copper underneath. This mix of colour and copper gives a depth and interest to the work that the metal alone would never achieve.

Stu has produced seagull in the masses, and says that when they are all set up in a space, all with their individual personalities, they create quite a response from attendees. The nice thing he says, is that once you are on a roll creating seagulls for example, it is easy to keep going and make a lot of them. Plus I think he likes making all the personalities and seeing them all together!

A finishing great point that Stu gave us was about taking breaks in between projects to help keep “fresh” and not burn out. He admits that he has pushed himself to this a few times but has learnt to take breaks in the form of a holiday or doing some different type of work. He spends a few days a week doing building and if you ever visit a Nova Cinema, you will see his creativity in the look of the inside and the bars. Not just constructing a plain room, but making a public space that inspires and is interesting as well as creatively built.

My Impression

I very much enjoyed listening to Stu. He is down to earth, straight to the point and professional. His work is beautifully presented and stunning to look at. It makes you feel happy. It is not bleeding edge, it isn’t in your face addressing some social issue, it doesn’t make me feel sad or offended. Even his reliefs with Junk like plastic bottles and a deflated football in them in them looked great, just by how well they were done. My thanks to our tutors for bringing in another interesting artist to speak.

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