Sculptor challenges ideals with wood and clay

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By Luke Voogt

A surreal exhibition combining Picasso’s influence with a chainsaw is set to restart live-viewing activities at Eagles Nest Gallery for the first time since June.

Long-time Moriac painter but relatively new sculptor Heather Stewart created the works over the past three years for her latest exhibition, Semblances.

Her jarringly eye-catching works combine finely-sculptured clay with pieces of timber.

“It’s trying to explore humanness without the encumbrance of the human body,” she said.

“I was doing a lot of walking in the Otways and I thought some of the trees were very anthropomorphic – they appeared human.

“They have this humanness without looking like a human body.”

Stewart decided that combining clay and timber was the best way to express her ideas on diversity, she explained.

“Then I got a chainsaw,” she laughed.

“But I was on my son-in-law’s private property, I’d like to say, so it was sustainable.”

Stewart had initially intended to put the works on display in Melbourne before COVID-19 hit Australia.

“And then it became much too hard,” she said.

But she was thrilled to again display work to a “steady stream” of viewers at Eagles Nest Gallery, Aireys Inlet, beginning November 7.

“I’m very excited about it and I hope people come along,” she said.

“I believe [the pandemic] will go on for some time so we have to get used to new ways of doing things. The main thing is that people can look at art.”

The works of Semblances deviate from a “known appearance” – in this case the female body.

Stewart hopes to question the idea of normal and challenge traditional perceptions of form, beauty and reality in her exhibition.

She intends her 20 sculptures and six drawings to challenge the viewer’s ideals on what makes them human and how they perceive diversity.

Spanish artist Pablo Picasso had always been in the back of her mind during her artistic career, she said.

“Picasso had such a strong and engaging aesthetic in his works and because of this he was able to present quite challenging ideas.

“He was able to represent the human body but not be realistic.”

Stewart has painted since the mid-1980s, when the then Colac primary school teacher first studied tertiary arts.

“I went to art school quite late, when I was 34, thanks to Gough Whitlam [and his free university scheme],” she said.

“I’d always drawn and painted but in those days there weren’t many options. I finally got my opportunity and that kind of got everything started.”

She went on to study a PhD in visual arts and established Brougham Arts School in Geelong with a colleague.

Together they ran the school for 11 years before selling it.

“I miss the teaching but I’m pleased to get out into the studio every moment that I can,” Stewart said.

“It’s great to be able to concentrate on my own work.”

Semblances and three other exhibitions officially launch at Eagles Nest Fine Art Gallery next Saturday, November 7, between 2pm and 5pm.

The exhibitions will run until the end of December at the gallery, which is open Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 10am to 5pm.

Mask-wearing and social-distancing restrictions apply.

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