Chris Cowell has a beautiful studio located on her small property in a cosy yurt. It's a fabulous space to work in throughout all seasons so it's no wonder Chris is so productive.
Chris' most recent body of work appears at first glance to be all shiny and new, but in reality it's made from discarded copper pipe cut-offs and plastic waste, most of it from the Electrolux factory floor. With painstaking detail and precision Chris has re-worked these useless objects and transformed them into beautifully composed sculptures. The gleaming copper pipes, for example, are a wonder to behold when you see where the journey began (just scroll down). Clever, simple composition is one of Chris' many talents.
I caught up with Chris at her home studio for a sneak peak at the new work before it arrives at the gallery this week for "States of Matter - an exhibition of sculpture by Aileen Francis and Chris Cowell", opening Thursday November 2nd.
Tell us about your background and how you came to be a sculptor?
My background is in Visual Arts Education (NSW DEC), which encompassed a wide range of media areas over time (1975-2011).
The main focus for me in the last few years of my teaching was in developing and teaching Photographic and Digital Media and Visual Design within the Visual Arts. While this was ‘new’ ground, (which I really loved), my love for sculpture had been established from my own school days and was cemented after majoring in Sculpture, at Art School, (National Art School, Newcastle 1971-1974). It surfaced in programmes, but had to share the ‘space’ with other media areas.
At the end of 2007, a friend, (a fellow Rogue Sculptor) asked if I was interested in sculpture; there was a group meeting coming up. I went! The outcome …I became a foundation member of Rogue Sculptors’ Incorporated. There were exhibitions planned right from the start, but I didn’t find it easy getting into my own sculpture practice, while full time teaching. I found it difficult to give it the time and the headspace it required.
Despite a wonderful year, I decided to break from teaching at the end of 2011. It took quite some time to lose the ‘school stuff’ to which I had become conditioned but being a member of ‘Rogues’ really helped as we planned further exhibitions, wrote submissions and were involved with workshops.
In 2013, my husband announced he was going to build me a studio and outlined his plan to build a yurt. I was astonished, but really, I think he wanted his shed back; I had consumed part of it along with the office in 2012 preparing for Rogue’s On and Off the Wall exhibition at ORG. Little did I realise, nor he perhaps, the impact it was going to make! I love my yurt!
I didn’t actually PLAN to do a lot of sculpture when I finished teaching; it evolved!
What are your favourite materials to work with and why?
I love working with lightweight materials, which are not necessarily traditional sculpture materials, like aluminum sheet, plastics, thermoplastics, polycarbonates and perspex… My most recent work utilises industrial wastes and discards.
I am fascinated by reflective and translucent surfaces and the way things can be constructed and deconstructed, re-used, repurposed and recycled.
I like working on a small scale because of the intimacy of working closely with pieces that need honing, cutting, filing and polishing. There is ‘preciousness’ about that close relationship.
Talk us through a regular day in your studio; tell us about your process.
In my current body of work, I have been involved with all things Arctic, Polar, Antarctic… on ecological, geographical and geomorphological matters, so I research bits and pieces along the way…. on my phone while I’m waiting for paint to dry or taking a break from polishing… or zipping over to the office to use the mac.
I usually have a number of works spinning at the same time, some coming to resolution more quickly than others. Sometimes I have to really discipline myself not to be distracted by anything else ‘new’ till I resolve the current pieces. That is often difficult as my mind wanders off with ideas, or I catch sight of something on the periphery… and stop to experiment.
There is always polishing…copper with black fluff/dust everywhere and the clean up so that I can work on the plastics, cutting, filing and polishing… and the white paint finishes on the frames. It’s an intimate practice, working with small-scale pieces that require attention to detail. I use small hand tools, not large machinery, (other than for the bench drill in the shed). For example, my cordless drill with drills or polishing mops and cutting pastes and compounds, is my major tool. It is used all the time, one battery on the charge, the other on the device. Many of my other tools are small jewelry or plumbing tools. I’m safety conscious, so glasses, masks, boots and aprons are standard.
When an exhibition is looming, or even if I’m just on a roll…I’m in the yurt as long as I can. It’s not always an early start in the mornings but it’s productive. Sometimes I push into the dark…. I do have lighting but the husband sends out a search party if I’m gone for ages…
I always know that time spent ‘away’ is good because it makes me hungrier to get back to it!
You’ve lived in Orange for some time; tell us about your involvement with the local art scene.
Since 2008, my involvement with the local art community has evolved through Rogue Sculptors Incorporated; slow at first, as my energies were primarily with school-based projects in the broader district.
My involvement with Rogues grew, through the great camaraderie that has developed in the group. Our common goal is to promote and nurture sculpture in the community so we have been quite active in running exhibitions and workshops.
Amongst this, 2009 President and Secretary 2013-2017 have kept me in the mix.
We are pretty pleased to be celebrating our 5th Anniversary of our annual pop-up exhibitions at the Parkview Hotel, 10 November!
Rogues association has led to being involved with a number of other projects in the community: *Yeoval Sculpture Walk, the * Weekend Community Ceramic Workshops, The KWS and CareWest (fundraiser) *KWS Garden and Sculpture Walk and *The Artists’ Masquerade Ball @ORG over time.
Aileen and I curated the Electrolux Exhibition 2015, Cool Art as the Electrolux Refrigeration Plant looked to celebrate their accomplishments over time in the community. This required collaboration with many artists from the Colour City Creatives as well as Rogue Sculptors and everyone who was interested.
I am a member of Friends of Orange Regional Gallery and help out in the kitchen/serving at Opening events at ORG and sometimes do the graphics for Fundraising events and the Orations.
What’s next for you and your practice?
This year I have been involved with The Sculptors Society, Sydney with my initial membership accepted February 2017, followed by acceptance of submissions for 5 exhibitions with them over 2017. While it’s been very busy, back and forth to Sydney, I have met wonderful sculptors and hope to continue my involvement with The Sculptor’s’ Society. I have been delighted to exhibit in some of Sydney’s most iconic buildings.
One thing is constant…I love sculpture and I’m happy to run with the flood of ideas, so I’ll keep on...
I’m working on ‘what’s next’!