BIO / ABOUT

My day job as a roof plumber means I work next door to a steel engineering business. I was drawn to the waste that was being thrown into the recycling bin and began collecting the scraps. With their support, knowledge and advice, I started experimenting with steel, a medium that is relatively new to me as an artist, and one that I have found is more accepted in the wider art landscape.
I also have access to an amazing steel scrap yard with lots of pieces of metal with varied and interesting histories. It feels like my duty to utilize and showcase these great materials. What others think of as scrap truly excites me when I incorporate them into objects of beauty.
I have always been creative, expressing myself through drawing and painting, but much of my enthusiasm for sculpture comes from finding the beauty in discarded material and being able to tell the story of these pieces and subsequently, to help preserve them, and tell a new story. 

 

Well-Tempered Steel: Andre Sardone’s Steel Evolution

Dr. Sam Bowker - Lecturer in Art History and Visual Culture - Charles Sturt University

Hidden behind a garden, Confectionery Capers is a shed and an educator’s mission on the outskirts of Bendigo.1 It is both a simple toy factory and elaborate practical joke. It is a disorientating bewilderment of plastics and punchlines, all bright colours and jiggling like a fisherman’s lure, driven by a single robust engine and the imagination of Campbell Smith. His titles for each gadget resemble cryptic crossword clues, embracing the Australian accent and revelling in punchlines drawn from the principals of physics. (There probably is a ‘punch-line’ hidden in this Aladdin’s cave, perhaps a hills hoist loaded with boxing gloves?)

Also based in Bendigo, Andre Sardone’s impressive steel sculptures evolved from different origins. Trained and highly experienced as a roofing plumber, over the past decade Sardone has cut coloured Bluescope Colourbond steel into figurative and abstract two-dimensional collages and portraits. These early works included an interpretation of Albert Tucker’s Futile City (1940) in the Heide Museum of Modern Art, inspired by the similarities of his materials with the colours chosen by the Australian modernist painter.

The noted Australian modernist Robert Klippel used reclaimed steel as the basis for many of his statuettes because nothing else could provide such a ‘vocabulary of shapes’. 2 These finely honed and intricate sculptures were painstakingly assembled from clockwork cogs and piano components like delicate skeletons. In this respect, Sardone’s work respects what steel offers him – not detritus or discarded offcuts, but stoic forms that possess their own value as clues in a puzzle. Through the chance meeting with Confectionery Capers, Sardone’s sculptures found a new raison d’etre. Curious machines were born, inspired by the mesmerising motion of looms, crankshafts, springs and the esoteric work of Rube Goldberg.

The centrepiece of the exhibition Steel Evolution are new works animated with a surprising vitality. Sardone’s Pod series contain an implied animation. They are inactive yet not inert, metallic yet strangely organic. They wait to go off like either a grenade or a seed (for as someone once observed, the seed of a tree is an explosion in slow motion). Their oxidised exterior and formidable weight, linked by a track-like loop, is reminiscent of the first tanks of the Great War or heavy machinery, yet these curved shells are transparent like the veins of a disintegrated leaf. The Pods could be an exoskeleton left over from a growing creature or pupae that might yet hatch if left in the right place.

Sardone’s most recent works spring into action when handled. Recycled, reimagined, and restored, these machines do exactly what they are supposed to do. They are kinetic sculptures that swish and sing, clang and clank, whirl, dance, twang and bounce. They raise a smile, hint of their history, stand watch within the landscape, and invite you to play. Their heavy and handsome timber pedestals – reclaimed posts from the construction of the Burnley tunnel in Melbourne – situate these sculptures as time-worn beasts of burden, not venerated marble gods. Despite their experimental diversity, Sardone’s sculptures clearly share a sense of joy in production. These are good-humoured objects from well-tempered steel.

Steel has symbolic properties – it is resilient, unwavering, hard. Sardone uses these properties by considering what else might be gleaned from them. Some are anthropomorphic, reaching or suspended figures, others move in unexpected sinuous pathways like caterpillars. He contrasts shining rings with rust like red dust, though the black of a fire-forged antique is preferred as an understated colour, authentic to worked metals and sympathetic to the Australian timber plinths that accompany most pieces. This pairing evokes archaic farm machinery abandoned in landscapes or retired to historical society sheds as the relics of long-lost labourers. The eroded balls from rock mills are intriguing components, like geological specimens or strange fruit, which accentuate the motion (real or implied) in Sardone’s work.

The resounding Dinner Bell was an outstanding object. The commanding presence of a complex orb, as high as a person, invites us to play by figuring out how it works. The tuned rings create a chiming chorus, ideal for a school, church or as the centre piece of a private garden. Similarly, Clanger and The Next Wave use crankshafts to rhythmic and amusing effect.

This exhibition was held at Dudley House from June 17 to June 25, 2017, with the support of the Bendigo City Council and opened by insightful comments from fellow sculptor Noel Muscat, as well as the patronage of Cooper’s brewery. Sardone’s works sold well, as did new works by fellow sculptor Bridget Finch, once again demonstrating the importance of public initiatives and art spaces to support artists in regional Australia. Bendigo is clearly taking the lead by providing and improving its facilities for these artists, in such close proximity to the highly acclaimed Bendigo Regional Art Gallery.

The exhibition captured the front page of the Bendigo Advertiser, the Bendigo Magazine, a feature story on WIN News, and generated an extraordinary crowd for the opening celebration.3 The Mayor of Bendigo, Cr Margaret O'Rourke, kindly visited the exhibition on June 24.

Jason Pearson of Red Dog Furniture and Joinery4 and Linton of Rawboards5 both loaned elegant, finely hand-crafted furniture to support this exhibition. The combination of polished and raw recycled timber and steel was evocative, and I hope to see future collaborations between these talented artists and artisans.

This exhibition showcased long-lasting artworks developed from local sources - both materials and inspiration. Sardone’s highly skilled expertise lends itself to create entirely new objects that delight, surprise, and allude to future growth. His best works are shared secrets, revealing what he has learned about a material, location, or process. They are a selfless and tactile legacy, and beckon towards ambitious future projects.

 

Dr. Sam Bowker 

1 Confectionery Capers is located at 1028 McIvor Highway, Junortoun VIC 3551, Australia. It is 10km east of Bendigo, opposite the Farmer’s Arms Hotel.

2 Klippel, 1957. AGNSW - https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/239.1998/

3 Chris Pedler, ‘Tradie to show art in the city’ Bendigo Advertiser, 2 June 2017

http://www.bendigoadvertiser.com.au/story/4705216/tradie-to-show-art-in-city/

Sue Turpie, ‘Evolution’ Bendigo Magazine 1 June 2017.

4 Red Dog Furniture and Joinery, Bendigo - http://www.reddogfurniture.com.au/

5 Rawboards of Bendigo - https://rawboards.com.au/about-us

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