Photo - Sharon Hickey
Sculptor Gaby Porter has spent the past 15 years transforming a pocket of Illawarra remnant rainforest into a sculpture garden.
Using sandstone, bronze, concrete, ceramic and even sticks, Gaby creates site-specific works that relate to the garden around them. Robin Powell spoke with her about her work.
When you first moved to Wombarra, the rainforest was largely hidden behind exotic trees, builders’ rubbish and the ubiquitous lantana, privet and blackberry. Was a sculpture garden always part of the plan?
No, it wasn’t. I lived and worked in a warehouse in Surry Hills in Sydney, which was very difficult – there are only so many stone chips you can put in
the garbage bin in the city! Initially I thought I’d get a block of land, a caravan and a tarp, and go there to do my work. Then, in 1997, someone
told me about this place. It was very overgrown but I could see the potential – and I could carve all I want here and make lots of noise and there
were no neighbours to disturb! As I started clearing out the lantana and so on, the rainforest thrived. As I was eliminating and clearing, I was putting
a few sculptures around. I guess subconsciously it might have been a sculpture garden I was creating, but I was not aware of that aim. It was the place
itself that started to lead me in that direction.
Cocoon, fond sticks and steel. Photo - Sharon Hickey
Do you design a sculpture for a place in the garden, or design the sculpture and then find a place for it?
I design for a part of the garden. I might think I need some interest low-down, or up high, and think of what might be appropriate in colour and scale.
There’s a spot where I have put mushroom sculptures, for instance. I wanted something low and spreading down the slope. We do have an abundance of
mushrooms and fungi on the property, so that just seemed the right thing.
The mushrooms are lead-glazed ceramic on tree trunk sections. You also work in sandstone, mosaic, bronze, limestone, cement and found objects!
Some people like an artist to stick to one genre, but I find it stimulating to keep changing: from bronze, to sandstone, to mosaic and the sticks are great
fun too. A visitor who was right into bush regeneration told me that I shouldn’t remove all the sticks that fall because they trap the leaves, and
help form a mulch. But fallen leaves and branches all over the place don’t suit my aesthetic. So I started piling the sticks together, as a kind of
retaining wall to hold the leaves, then the piles started getting bigger and I started moving them into other shapes, and then that developed into
Cocoon and Surge and other works. I like playing with what’s here.
Josephine, mosaic over ferro-cement. Photo - Sharon Hickey
What are you working on today?
At the moment I’m doing some small soapstones, which I haven’t done for years. I recently read ‘The Hare with Amber Eyes’ and that reminded me how much
I enjoyed doing these small carvings. Mine are a bit bigger than the netsuke in the book, from the size of a matchbox, up to the size of a hand. They
are giving me great pleasure.
Gaby Porter’s sculpture garden at Wombarra is at 57 Morrison Avenue, Wombarra. It is open on the first full weekend of every month, 10.30am-4pm, or by appointment, 02 4268 2695. Entry is $10. The book about the garden, ‘Wombarra Sculpture Garden’ by Gaby Porter is published by Black Duck Press and is available from email@example.com.
Text: Robin Powell