ONE evening last week a visitor of Roger McKindley’s sat at this kitchen table, looked out through the open door, through the starlight, and across to where the Loddon River gently bends.
“This is heaven, you’re in heaven man,” said his visitor.
Heaven is a humble cottage on a rocky rise above the Newstead township.
Heaven has no power, no Internet, no town water, no frills and no worries. And people leave heaven transformed.
“I’ve got a book in there for visitors to write in and some of the things that people have written are just so moving,” says Roger.
We’re here as part of a hand-picked tour of metal artists taking part in this year’s Castlemaine State Festival.
Roger’s place, Antares Art Garden, is at the end of the dusty Punt Road, with a gorgeous view of the river and Mount Franklin.
“I’m certain it effects who we are when we have space and a vista to look out at,” says Roger.
In five and a half years Roger has transformed this place into a rusted wonderland of whimsy. He has taken the hard-edged implements of long-forgotten work and made them sing again, albeit to a different tune.
“Most of this stuff is broken, no one wants it,” he says of the raw materials he collects for his garden.
“Everything I’ve got has been broken and discarded and that’s the thing I relish because I want to reconstruct it in a new light and enjoy it in a visual way.”
At the entrance to his property, a vintage car sprouts succulent tentacles and bird cages hang like Christmas ornaments.
Inside, ancient axe heads find themselves part of a community, hand-forged chains and stirrups hand like bunting, and pieces of metal, stone, glass and timber are reborn. Loved even.
Roger has been collecting and sculpting object for over 20 years. This is the fourth art garden he has created in Central Victoria.
“Before that I’d been building stone walls and I’d imagine the next rock in the pattern and design and things would seem to appear, so from building stone walls I learnt to fit things together,” he says.
This is Roger’s life. His art is for his own enjoyment, and for sharing, rather than making a living. Visitors are always welcome here. They’re always welcome at his table, too. Inside Roger’s house is a room with a table and a slow combustion stove. The warm heart of this place.
Roger once had an architect visit, who was amazed at the good vibes at this place. She came back again and took measurements of the space, in an effort to understand why is felt so good just to be here.
“I reckon it’s the table, the stove, and maybe things that I’ve done,” Roger says.
“And it’s because I thank my house. I thank it for allowing me to live here. And anything that’s loved responds.”
It’s people’s responses to this place that is the most rewarding for Roger. While they all comprehend the artworks differently, they all see the fun in what Roger has created.
“I love it when I hear adults playing. I know there’s a child in all of us,” he says.
A FEW minute’s drive up the road we reach Strangways, and the home of Trefor Prest.
By 3pm the day is positively baked, but it’s this dry heat that stopped Trefor and his wife Belinda in their tracks 30 years ago.
“We were heading for northern NSW and this is as far as we got,” he says.
“We had been living in the Dandenongs, where it was wet and dark, and we came here to get a donkey and it was dry and warm...”
Trefor built himself a workshop and gallery overlooking the Jim Crow Creek and began to fill it with his artworks... ever so slowly.
“The most I’ve ever done in a year was four, usually two or three,” he says.
Then again, it takes time for character to develop.
Trefor’s works of copper, brass, wood and canvas may be faceless, but each embodies a character that defies their mechanical elements.
“People say they’re similar to steam punk, but the idea behind them is different to that. Steam punk’s about fashion and this isn’t really about that at all,” he says.
“They come from whatever I’m reading at the moment or thinking about. They all reflect what’s going on in my little world.
“They’re all different. You sort of form a relationship with them because it takes a few months, at least, to make them, so you get to sort of know them a bit.”
As well as his arts studies, Trefor enrolled in welding and engineering courses to gain the skills to make every piece of his sculptures by hand.
He laughs the tutors and other students had no idea what he wanted the skills for. He has taken the skills of industry and harnessed them for pure creativity. Likewise the machines he uses.
Against the back wall of the workshop sits a workhorse. A massive, greasy, grimy lathe that was hauled from the dark belly of a disused foundry and given new life creating out-of-this-world works in Strangways.
THE flight of fancy continues in Castlemaine, at the studio and gallery of artists Peter and Chelly Gray.
Their work is equally at home here, among the silver trucks of birch trees, as it is in the hallowed spaces of the Guggenheim Museum, which placed an order for 66 of the couple’s wire creations in the mid-1990s.
They work with recycled materials – fencing wire, pressed tin panels, fly wire screens and corrugated iron. The finished works include candelabras, bird houses, bouquets, baskets and beautiful nests – Bendigo Art Gallery recently bought a large nest to be displayed when the gallery expansion is complete.
Peter and Chelly met at university in Bendigo when they were studying sculpture and ceramics.
“We left the course and started doing wire work straight away and that’s all we’ve ever done,” Peter says.
This year they celebrate 20 years of work together. Their festival exhibition is a celebration of those years and features the evolution of their work over the decades – including the first wire piece they ever made – a curly bird cage.
“It’s fantastic, but we’re just getting to where we want to be when we started, to be self sufficient here and not have to sell our work outside of Shades of Grey,” Peter says.
“This is our vision and it’s taken 20 years to get here.
“Chelly and I, we’ve never worked for anyone, we’re artists, and we’ve sacrificed a lot to be able to do this.”
Everything at Shades of Gray the couple have created by hand. Peter says the garden and the collection of cottages, built with recycled materials, are their biggest works of art. In one space a gallery houses their latest work, in another, their amazing private collection of wire work. “We don’t get ideas from the collection but we’re inspired by it because it shows you can make anything out of wire,” Peter says.
There’s a plethora of artist studios and exhibitions open during the Castlemaine State Festival, until March 24, including a group sculpture show at historic Buda House and Garden featuring works by Zoe Amor, Ewen Coates, Marcos Davidson, Lynne Edey, Noel Essex, David Frazer, Anton Hasell, Judy Holding, Craig MacDonald, Joanne Mott, Alex Sanson, Anthony Vanderzweep, John Veeken, David Waters and Jud Wimhurst.
For details of these and more, go to castlemainefestival.com.au