FELLOW HUMANS: STEPHEN HART, Museum of Brisbane, closes Sunday 2 March 2014.
A conversation between Hart, MOB director Peter Denham and MOB Board Member and writer/curator Alison Kubler on Thursday 26 February 2014 was the final public program. It noted the territory traversed by this thoughtful exhibition of hand-carved individuals from Hart’s creative community. The discussion travelled the gamut of what Kubler described as, “the subjective emotional connection” in Hart’s work, the dependence that humanity still has on the connections between people, and the presence of the human hand, “a very consoling thing”, particularly during our age of accelerated technological change. The interiority of the artist’s world was also noted, particularly when ideas are germinating. As Hart said, “Inside each of us there is uncertainty and doubt, and there is motivation within that.”
The exhibition includes sculptures of Hart’s fellow artists – Michael Zavros, Judith Wright, Stephen Nothling, Fiona Foley and Donna Marcus. Yet Kubler noted the sense, within all of these sculptured figures, of Hart himself, describing them as “self portraits of Stephen Hart that contain others as well”. This one (pictured) of Judith Wright captures her modesty, quietude and grace. The connections within the community captured by the time required to hand render these figures in timber, represent an evocation of time (and a year in the studio for Hart).
While Hart noted the redundancy of his chosen media, hand carving in timber, and discussed his explorations toward a more digital application of his interests, this labour intensive exercise is in some ways the reason that the exhibition has such presence and has attracted an appreciative audience. Hart said, “Art affirms our existence. While we don’t need [objects] at all, they are, equally, vital (for our soul/s).”
The interview which follows was first published on http://ihaveonlygotfiveminutes.wordpress.com, and is reproduced in full, with the permission of mc/k art consulting.
Stephen Hart creates meticulously crafted sculptures in timber, stone and bronze. His work contemplates the human condition yet retains a sense of wit and whimsy in its form and expression. Stephen Hart – Fellow Humans is his latest project, completed over 20 months in the studio. It will be shown at Museum of Brisbane, City Hall, Brisbane between 18 October 2013 to 23 March 2014.
In over twenty years of practice Hart has had some 35 solo and group exhibitions, completed several public commissions and his work is held in collections both institutional and private. He is represented by Jan Manton Art, www.janmantonart.com and Michael Reid, www.michaelreid.com.
mc/k art: Your project Fellow Humans has required almost two years in the studio. How does its exhibition impact on your next body of work and the ideas about humanity that drive your focus on the figure?
Fellow Humans is the culmination of twenty months of painstaking concentration, thought and work. I thought when I embarked on this project it would be a ‘never-ending project’. Time and viewer response will determine that, but I have ideas about expanding this project.
What do you hope that viewers will understand about the people you have depicted, their connections with you and each other, and individual audience members themselves?
We are surrounded by Fellow Humans (almost nine billion) and would each have different criteria for selecting a different group. I started with family, friends, fellow artists and people of interest to me. Visitors to the exhibition may be interested to define their own criteria.
How did you select the individuals you have portrayed? And what stimulated this particular body of work?
I started with the people most familiar to me (and those I thought would be comfortable with being under my scrutiny). I have always found the challenge of human representation stimulating. When I attended art school the body as a motif in art was considered exhausted and it was no longer taught in traditional ways (life drawing and life modelling). As a human inhabiting a body I was never comfortable with iconoclasm! In my opinion the only medium that is ever exhausted is imagination. My imagination was challenged by that notion of exhaustion.
What do you believe your work offers people generally? Why do you work away in a traditional manner when new media may offer alternatives?
What Fellow Humans represents is a manual version of what the 3D printer will make possible. What may become marginalised are the extraordinary skills developed by the hand and the brain. I continue to sculpt in timber for pragmatic and philosophical reasons. I don’t enjoy waste so I don’t like to abandon tools that are still perfectly functional and there always seem to be endless possibilities within the methodology I use.
A new generation will have greater flexibility and invention with new technology. I’m still gaining new insights and ideas in what I do. I believe I will be able to respond to whatever material and media I have an opportunity to work with.
As an artist, your existence is fairly solitary, interspersed with exhibition opportunities. Is the contrast of working alone (to make the sculptures) and dealing with the public response (when they are shown) difficult? What do you find rewarding about this existence?
I didn’t set out to achieve a solitary existence but by nature I have been drawn to solitary pursuits. I’ve come to think of my studio practice as a form of religious practice in that to work on one’s own, one must maintain a certain self-discipline.
The studio life does get lonely so it has a certain structure with a clear purpose: activity becomes an antidote and stimulus to solitariness.
What is it that drives you to make things, and what considerations/criteria are necessary for an idea to progress to an object?
I have always been a maker and the communion with material retains an element of magic to me. It may sound glib but I increasingly allow myself to be a conduit and to allow myself to absorb and respond to the world around me.
If you weren’t an artist what would you most want to do?
I’m beyond being able to contemplate another way of life.
What is the most important thing that you do every day?
I try to keep my heart and mind open.
What has history taught us?
Human nature has universal traits.
What single change do you hope for in the future of the world?
We will need to become more and more tolerant of diversity as population expands.
At what age do you think we become ourselves?
We are always in a state of becoming.
What is in your bottom drawer/or is close to you at home?
What do you find confusing?
I have been confused by so much where would I begin?
What makes you happy?
My grandson Vincent’s willingness to smile at me.
What is life’s greatest lesson?
That you will always have more to learn.
What single change do you hope for in the future of the world?
What is the best feature of humanity?
I believe people are fundamentally good.
What would you like your legacy to be?
That my work offered some inspiration to go on living.