Wood sculptor reveals ‘beauty from the inside’

Darren Matthews with his surfboard sculpture. (Supplied)

By Luke Voogt

A surfboard with 40 offcuts and wooden pieces that almost seem to move is the manifestation of Darren Matthews’ long-time love of working with timber.

“That’s about 40 different bits of timber that I’ve used – some are offcuts from pieces I worked on 20 years ago,” the Wandana Heights sculptor and furniture-maker said.

“The sculptures are almost a bi-product. I struggle to throw the off cuts and old timer away, so I always keep them.

“I’ve still got trunks that I cut 15 years ago sitting in the shed, waiting for me to make something out of them.”

Matthews was a “hands-on kid from birth” and worked 25 years as toolmaker in iron and aluminium foundries and factories for Ford.

But his marriage to wife Linda about three decades ago led him to a new medium.

The couple bought their first home together in Moriac, inspiring Matthews to have a go at furniture-making, he explained.

“When you buy your first home you sort of think, ‘I need to make something like a table or stand’,” he said.

“As a toolmaker you can use those hand skills to manipulate wood.”

His work began with a slab of grey weathered timber from an old pig sty on the property.

“I always admired how neat it looked and how well it had weathered,” he said.

Cutting into the slab revealed “beautiful rich brown timber” inside, and after restoring the piece he gave it new life as a table by mounting it on forked tree stump.

“I presented the piece to a gallery and they put it in, and it sold a month later,” he said.

“Then I really got interested, because it was a little bit of extra pocket money, and I started looking at things a bit differently.

“When I’m walking past a tree now, I’m always thinking, ‘what could I do with that bit of branch or that trunk?’

“I’ve been doing it ever since.”

He began searching for old timber and felled trees, bringing back “the natural beauty from the inside” of wood that would have otherwise ended up burned, mulched or at the tip.

“Once you start recycling something you can see it go from a state of disrepair to getting a new life,” he said.

“Not every piece of wood that you cut into will work. They’ll tear or you’ll find grubs in them and you’ll say, ‘I actually can’t use this’.

“But you’re never sure until you cut into them.”

And having an arborist as a mate also helps in his search for wood to recycle.

“They would say, “hey, do you want this trunk?’” he said.

“We have a house full of stuff I’ve made.”

And some of his work is now on display, until September 27, in Geelong Sculptors’ annual exhibition, Recent Works, at Eagles Nest Gallery in Aireys Inlet.

Matthews is vice president of the group, and among 45 Geelong and Surf Coast sculptors exhibiting more than 80 works in a variety of mediums, shapes and sizes.

The exhibition launched last weekend, after the group postponed last year and again the weekend before last due to COVID-19 lockdowns.

The exhibition is open Friday to Monday 10am-5pm.

Details: geelongsculptorsinc.com