THE recent installation of a major work of public art at a junction of the New England and Gwydir Highways through Glen Innes has generated plenty of community queries about the title of the sculpture and the inspiration behind it. Arts North West talked with its Walcha-based creator James Rogers to dig deeper.
“This is no signpost or billboard. No voice cheers it on other than the harsh glare of our daily cycle, weeks and months at a time as the light of the sun and seasons’ angle shapes our moments at the crossroads.”
What we found was an artist thinking about the long-term experience of his work in the context of its setting: not just the centrepiece of a roundabout in a major traffic corridor, but one that sits within an upland valley of the NSW Northern Tablelands.
“‘Blue Hills’ is an abstract, painted steel construction composed of 52 hand-cut, long, curved strips of steel and accompanied bridging elements,” James explained. “The strips are cut from 600-millimetre dia tube. This character of element is something I have been working with in the studio for some years.”
Despite its apparent simplicity, according to James ‘Blue Hills’ took on its own life during its creation.
“I composed the work over five months in Walcha, accumulating groups of the steel slivers into loose-leaning bunches that connect at the foot and the top, into a generally circular form,” he said.
“As work proceeded, lyrical elements were added to accommodate structural considerations and activate the ridge of the sculpture, maintaining a dialog from top to base and back to the ridge of the listing, arrhythmic drapes.
“The density compounds across the space as the structure circulates. Steel is endlessly plastic and further welding and cutting kept the process alive.
“I work alone and with a small forklift as my assistant. I felt very close in answering the sculpture’s physical demands as the work unfolded.”
Patterns and distance
Quirindi-born James Rogers is a regular Sculpture By The Sea exhibitor who studied the art form at the former Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education before living, working and regularly exhibiting in Sydney. His public commissions include ‘Song Cycle’ (2001) at Walcha, another sinuous metallic work situated inside a roundabout.
It’s clear that James spent time gauging how ‘Blue Hills’ would appear from road level in a moving vehicle.
“I see the work as a composition of long shadows,” he said. “The tonality of distance is blue and the silence of the Tablelands, so blue; but on closer experience the blue is itself a composition of forms, an interplay across a space of light and shadow, of form and void”.
“Further familiarity may reveal counterpoints of rhythm that invoke pattern, but it all moves on, the blue still unfolding as a memory of looking forward, around a roundabout and indicating some choices made.
“The sculpture is a distillation of nature’s space with a detached countenance that asks us to look into the silence in the shadows.”
According to James, who relocated to live, work and exhibit at Walcha in 2009, his work must speak for itself over time.
“Now that ‘Blue Hills’ is installed, and all the barracking and raspberries blended over, the sculpture gets on with its job, mute and silent,” he said.
“No plaque will speak for it adequately if the eye is not enticed. This is no signpost or billboard. No voice cheers it on other than the harsh glare of our daily cycle, weeks and months at a time as the light of the sun and seasons’ angle shapes our moments at the crossroads.
“Whether north, south, east or west, it is a drivers’ and passengers’ exchange. It is all first-timers and learners, fresh-faced and old hands that negotiate an evaluation of delight at their transport through the intersection. No two arrivals will be the same from foggy dawn to day’s end.
“A successful work of art, I think, induces silence, while in our core we suspend disbelief, and the eye’s curiosity moves ahead of what might be daily and commonplace utterance.”
This article was first published by Arts North West. Main image by Carol Sparks.