Walking into the Surry Hill’s studio of sculptor Carol Crawford is a special experience. Shards of light stream in through the huge windows, occasionally catching on one of plinths set up around the room. Carol’s voluptuous artworks are displayed in varying stages of completion, from oversized boulders of raw alabaster (her preferred medium) to neatly polished knots that look almost like the stone has been stretched and kneaded in on itself. They are the result of one very patient, persistent woman - sometimes taking years to complete. We spoke with Carol about her motivations, learnings, and plans for the future…
1. How did you find your niche?
The decision to work with alabaster was definitely an evolutionary thing - the first stone I carved was limestone, which is a very coarse stone, but soft and forgiving. I didn’t love limestone because it couldn’t be polished up, and more detailed forms were impossible to realise. I continued working with clay modelling, and direct plaster in the meantime. In 2009, I visited Volterra in Italy (the home of Italian alabaster), and brought some rough pieces of alabaster home in my suitcase. and started work on them. This is where the love affair with stone carving began.
2. Talk us through your journey as an artist?
I call myself a ‘late career’ artist, although I have always been interested in life drawing, and the arts. I was fortunate to study sculpture under the guidance of Tom Bass, who became my teacher and mentor. Tom Bass was a famous public sculptor, and I had known of him for many years, but couldn’t commit the time to pursue this dream, because I had a young and busy family. In 2003 I decided that I had to start my studies with Tom, as he was already in his eighties (he died at the age of 93 in 2010). Tom was a traditionalist sculptor, who ran his studio in Erskineville, in the atelier method - sculptors of all experiences working together in the same space - he taught me how to ’see’ - one of the most important aspects of creating sculptures, he also taught me discipline in my practice. Today, the Tom Bass Sculpture Studio School in Erskineville is still thriving, and is run by a Management Committee/ Board (which I have been on for 9 years).
3. Could you describe the process of creating one of your works, from beginning to end?
I choose all my stones personally, and they all have to speak to me in the rough. I find curvilinear organic forms very soothing, and often the rough stone will have a very roughly curved shape. I start by chiseling off the parts of the stone I know I don’t want - and I keep working around and around the stone. When all the ‘roughing’ out is complete, I will use hand files, and very slowly allow the personality of that particular stone to emerge. It is not about me imposing my opinion on the stone, it is all about adaption, and allowing the stone to speak for itself. In a way I do very little.
4. What has been your most rewarding experience in your career so far?
Every day that I sculpt is rewarding - it just fills me with inner joy! I also enjoy seeing the happiness my pieces can bring to those who view them, or who have purchased pieces from me. I am very attached to each of my sculptures, and I genuinely like to know they are going to a good home.
5. Could you name three artists who are inspiring you at the moment?
1. Very easy - I have just returned from a ‘Georgia O’Keeffe Pilgrimage’ (my terminology!!) - in April this year I visited New Mexico, where O’Keeffe spent much of her middle and later life - I visited her home in Abiquiu and also the Ghost Ranch, visited the Indian reservation in Taos - as well as visiting Santa Fe and the surrounding incredible landscape. Completely mind boggling, and filled me with inspiration. Even though O’Keeffe was predominantly a painter, her paintings are very sculptural, and her forms, being organic and ultra feminine, appeal to me. 2. Barbara Hepworth is the other artist who strongly influences me - she worked in stone, her aesthetic is sublime. She was a contemporary of Henry Moore, and held her own! I visited Hepworth’s home in St Ives, Cornwall (England) last year, and being able to view her studio and view many of her sculptures in real life, was awe inspiring. 3. Tom Bass who was my mentor and to whom I owe everything.
6. What is on your wish list right now?
I am very fortunate to be able to visit many museums and indulge my love of art, I wish to continue to be inspired by beautiful art and literature, but also beautiful by natural landscapes.
7. Where is your favourite local spot to take meetings?
My studio is in Surry Hills, and it is between there and Erskineville that I tend to meet people. Albeit, I don’t have to ‘meet’ people that often, as sculpting is quite a solitary pursuit.
8. Where do you go when you’re looking for inspiration?
Landscapes - I find ‘green’ very soothing. I often go down the South Coast where we have a weekender (near Berry) and carve for a few days at a time. It feeds my soul.
9. What are you looking forward to?
My daughter lives in Berlin, and one of my favourite things to do there is to visit the Boros Collection - I am excited because they only rotate exhibitions once every 3 years, and this year there is a new exhibition. I will be visiting it in October. The Boros Collection is in the most incredible above ground bunker that Hitler built to house the local population against bombing from the allied forces. It was converted into a museum only in recent history, by the Boros family.
10. Do you have any advice for budding sculpture artists just starting out?
Patience and believe in yourself.