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For artists, few places in Australia are quite so well appointed for creativity as Flinders, on the Mornington Peninsula. It’s warm in the summer, boxed in by Western Port Bay on one side and Bass Straight on the other. A place to surf and enjoy the outdoors, to experience the kind of Australia you read about in the guide books. In the winter it’s a small, community minded town, next door to Red Hill and Mericks, which are home to some of the state’s best wineries and cellar door restaurants.
It should come as no surprise, then, that when artist Ash Sherman moved to Flinders, he went through a great transformation in the way he approached his art. Ash’s studio is in a big tin shed out the back of his property in Flinders, surrounded by cypress and gum trees. He’d always considered himself a painter, but since moving, took up sculpture.
He’d be walking his dog around the property and notice there were fallen cypress trees everywhere, so he started reclaiming them and loading the limbs onto the back of his truck and carting them back to the shed. “That started the whole process,” says Ash, while taking a break from work in the studio. “I’d never really thought about sculpture, but I was surrounded by all of this beautiful timber.”
He created his new style over a few months, picking up the cypress on his property, manhandling it, standing it up with a block and tackle and chains, skinning its bark, and hacking into it with a chainsaw and a chisel. The results are striking and beautiful. The huge, rough-hewn works are imposing and coarse, often seven, eight feet tall, but compelling and graceful. “They speak to you, these sculptures, as if there’s someone else in the room,” he says. “They’re new life.”
He likens reclaimed timber to the canvasses he’d normally paint on: just another material to shape. “I’m interested in the relationship between colour and a three-dimensional shape,” he says, “but I also just love seeing these colourful chunks of solid timber in amongst the clean lines of people’s homes.”
After studying fine art at university, Ash’s career took a new turn when he started taking on renovation projects down on the Mornington Peninsula a few years ago, which became his new creative outlet. “We were doing up run-down beach houses we found,” he says. “Most people would have bowled them over and built a palazzo. But I love the feel of those old places. So we’d refit them and give them life again.”
Soon, he was lying awake at night thinking about all of the things he could do to bring an old house back to life. He fell in love with the surfaces and textures, and in the process, became inspired to take up art again full time. “I had to do it,” he says. “I’d studied fine art, and painted regularly for years, so I had to make a go of going it full time.”
Today, Ash spends his time between the Sunshine Coast and Flinders. Surrounded by another new environment, his work is evolving again. “The essence is the same,” he says, “but the warm weather, the tropical environment, the different timbers falling around me… all of that has shaped the way the work comes out.”