Director Gretchen Keelty’s job is to mould pure joy into the annual Sculpture On The Edge festival.
As 12 months’ work hurtles towards the start of the 2023 event on Thursday, November 23, Gretchen must ensure the 18-day festival – covering the sculpture competition and exhibition, public workshops and ticketed events, artist talks and twice-daily tours – is joyous for all.
“The thing that brings me so much joy is seeing the delight on people’s faces and the wonder,” she says as the 2023 Sculpture On The Edge (SOTE) prepares to welcome art lovers for the second year to the renowned Flaxton Gardens wedding and events venue on the Blackall Range.
Maleny Garden Club’s Open Gardens Festival gave SOTE wings as a collaborative effort in 2010, before the standalone event began the following year.
Arts Connect Inc. co-founder Pam Maegdefrau was the driving force.
“All of it began because she believed there weren’t enough opportunities for emerging artists, and SOTE because there were not enough opportunities for sculptors in particular,” Gretchen says.
“So, she took action. She’s wonderful. Still very active and still a great supporter of Arts Connect local artists.”
The vision has since grown into what is the Sunshine Coast hinterland’s signature indoor/outdoor visual art festival.
The much-anticipated event on the regional arts calendar allows guests to meet and interact with the clever artists and discover their diverse works throughout an almost magical setting where initial glances can be deceiving, nothing is quite as it seems and you never know what to expect.
Whether high up in the trees, dominating grassed areas or standing beside leafy gardens, on the floor of the auditorium or hanging from the ceiling, the smallest of works to massive constructions form an eclectic mix of original ideas in mediums that range from traditional bronze, brass, marble and clay to recycled articles, hardwood, papier mache and textiles.
The big picture is a sensory feast to drink in, walk around, marvel at and be charmed by. And the works never fail to get people talking.
“The most surprising for me, and a bit amusing, was Cat Men by Jason Sank: it won the People’s Choice in 2021,” Gretchen says, laughing at the memory of one statue’s “anatomy swinging in the breeze”.
“Someone posted it on Twitter and I heard it had something like 35,000 likes.”
A SOTE social media post at the time reported: “This intriguing, whimsical, and somewhat disturbing piece responds to the destructive history of the feral cat in Australia whilst cleverly referencing a futuristic trans-human existence. Made from wire mesh, felt, and real cat fur, this work was certainly in the consideration of the judges, so we are very pleased to see Jason rewarded by the popular vote.”
The competition side of the festival this year boasts 120 finalists and 190 final works vying for Overall Winner ($10,000, sponsored by Flaxton Gardens), Emerging Artist ($1000, Montville Art Gallery and Bodo Muche Studio), Local Artist ($2000, Illume Creations), Reclaimed and Recycled Art ($2000, doubled in size this year, The Opalcutter), People’s Choice ($1000, Montville Chamber of Commerce and Hammond Optometry) and Artist Choice Peer Award ($1000, new this year, Tina Cooper Glass Gallery).
Some sculptors have had two or three works accepted after all entries were scrutinised by an Arts Connect Inc. curation panel, as well as a blind judging.
“We’ve got pieces from the United Kingdom, Paris, Spain and the whole eastern seaboard –Tasmania, Victoria , NSW and all over Queensland – and the Northern Territory,” says Gretchen, who had her hands full with her baby this year but had three pieces accepted in the 2022 SOTE.
“We still have a good representation of local artists but we have this extra added flavour. (Works) range from figurative to abstract.
“We’ve got some really great Indigenous artists as well. Belynda Waugh has a brilliant outdoor installation as well as an indoor work. BJ Murphy has an indoor work. And Colleen Lavender has some special pieces as well. Then there’s cross-cultural Indigenous collaborations.
“It’s all really, really special.”
With a tagline of: “Immerse yourself in creativity”, the festival is also highly interactive, including nearly 40 workshops that are sure to draw out the imagination of participants.
Choices include making a small figurine in a two-day (9am to noon) workshop with Monte Lupo Arts, sculpting a male portrait in clay with Cam Crossley, and creating a 30cm wax model ready for casting under Lainie Cooper-Taverne’s Wax To Bronze day-long tutorship (9.30am-4pm).
Multiple Archibald Prize finalist and one of Australia’s best painting teachers, Sydney-based Jessica Ashton, will give a master class in portraiture, while husband Robert Dujin shares his skills and knowledge in a Plein Air Landscape workshop.
Mieke Van Den Berg offers an experimental drawing class on Tracing the Moving Body, and even the kids can get into the act by creating take-home turtle and whale planters, painting their own coffee mugs and making festival paper lanterns, mosaic frames and 3D magpie sculptures.
“It’s a real mix,” Gretchen says of the breadth of workshops on offer.
“Two different artists are teaching needle felting. Cam Crossley teaches how to sculpt from the live model. There’s a little something for everyone and additional kids workshops on the weekends.”
Everything about SOTE 2023 is designed to optimise participation, engagement and inclusion.
“Last year, one of the most motivating things for me was seeing this young lady, who was quite immobile, in her fully motorised wheelchair, able to get around Flaxton Gardens and have a wonderful day with her carer,” Gretchen recalls.
“That, for me, was so heartwarming – to know that we can provide a wonderful day out for everyone.
“We’re trying hard to make it accessible for everyone.
“Every time we make something more accessible for one group, it’s more accessible for others as well. When I was pregnant, I needed to sit down a lot. So, we’re making sure there’s lots of places for people to sit and rest.
“The ramps are not only for wheelchairs, they’re for people with prams.
“The kids love it just as much as anyone. It’s fantastic.
“Last year, my daughter was seven weeks old for the exhibition.
“It’s a week or two later this year and I think she’s going to be taking her first proper steps up at Flaxton on the beautiful manicured lawns.
“She loves people and I feel like it will be the highlight of her year, too – more people to smile at.”
BREATH OF FRESH AIR IN ART
Sculpture on the Edge is an annual art extravaganza and sculpture competition at Flaxton Gardens. The 18-day program aims to ignite imagination, inspire and delight with indoor and outdoor works which are all for sale. The festival is made possible by the support of the Sunshine Coast Council, local businesses and cultural grants. The 2023 SOTE is open to the public every day from 8am to 4pm, from Thursday, November 23 – Sunday, December 10. Adult entry is $10, concessions $5, and children 17 and under are free. Learn more at sculptureontheedge.com.au. Purchase tickets for entry at sculptureontheedge.com.au/tickets/ and workshops at sculptureontheedge.com.au/art-workshops-sunshine-coast/.
AMONG THE FINALISTS
From where do you get your inspiration and what part do the materials themselves play? From marine life. I love the lines. The bronze allows me to create flowing thin sculptures with very little fixing to a base.
How did you begin dabbling in sculptured forms? I asked someone one day to create a piece for me for a client. It was such a hassle to them, I thought, “Stuff it, I’ll have a go at it myself.”
Belynda Waugh (Bindi)
From where do you get your inspiration and what part do the materials themselves play? The polycarbonate is a particularly interesting material to work with as it is incredibly flexible UV-resistant and weatherproof. The paint is a graffiti spray paint which is also UV-resistant and weatherproof and, combined, they offer a unique artwork that transforms at night into a pillar of light.
How did you begin dabbling in sculptured forms? For me, sculpture is a natural progression from working in two dimensions. There is always that desire to take that next step, see something from another perspective and, of course, explore new materials.
From where do you get your inspiration, and what part do the materials themselves play? I create mixed-media sculptures using items from charity shops and collectable fairs, drawing inspiration from the objects and their unique histories. As part of the process, I immerse myself in the materials by living with them in my home – an admission that I’m a bit of a hoarder.
When did you see yourself as an artist? I have had a passion for visual art from an early age, and it has been a constant in my life.
Yanni Van Zijl
How did you begin dabbling in sculptured forms? Age six. I found clay, toilet rolls, dad’s timber cut-offs – whatever I could find. Materials weren’t supplied, they were found. Then seriously while studying a diploma of fine arts with the intention to study painting. But 3D, ceramics and installation became my chosen art form.
When did you see yourself as an artist? Despite always being creative, it wasn’t until my daughter came home one day and, whilst walking past my studio, Sophia announced to her friend, “Oh, that’s my mum’s mess. She’s an artist.” Until then, I had not dared refer to myself as an artist.