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MAGAZINE: ARTS

Finely crafted furniture uses local timbers

By SUE-ANNE WALLACE

Furniture 91. Beaver Galleries, 81 Denison Street, Deakin. Wednesday to Sunday 10.30am-5pm. Closes August 24.

Woodworking is one of

the pre-eminent art practices in the Canberra region.

As if to acknowledge this, local galleries

are increasingly exhibiting fine woodwork, although not always by local artists.

Furniture 91, which presents the work of 12 woodworkers, is the second furniture ex- hibition at Beaver Galleries in as many

months.

The title of the exhibition carries with it expectations of contemporary design and such expectations are largely fulfilled, al- though not all pieces were made this, or even last, year.

The furniture, mostly tables and chairs, is finely crafted and makes use of Australian timbers, particularly Tasmanian blackwood and silky oak.

Arguably one of the finest woodworkers in the exhibition is Leon Sadubin.

Commissioned in 1981 to make a desk for Prince Charles on the occasion of his wed- ding, in 1986 to make 93 benches for the New Parliament House project, and in 1989 to design and build an altar for the Francis Greenway church of St James in Sydney, Sadubin brings considerable experience to

his work.

Sadubin has exhibited a writing desk which is one of a pair. The second desk is in the permanent collection of the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.

In talking about his work, Sadubin sug- gests his roots are in European design.

He acknowledges in particular the influ- ence, of Helga Larsen, a Danish silversmith resident in Sydney, and Darani Lewers, his wife and also a silversmith, and a period

CRAFT

Geoff Hague's breakfast chair.

spent in Denmark and Germany in 1982, as recipient of a Churchill Fellowship.

Such influences can be recognised in his work in the balance of expressed structures, between space and form, design and decora-

tion.

Sadubin's approach to materials and de- sign is sensitive and understated.

Yet in spite of the European design, his work may be described as essentially Austra-

lian, in its refined details like beading, which emphasises formal structure rather than em- bellishing surfaces, and its "certain heavi- ness", a characteristic which Sadubin identifies with Australian furniture.

Among the provocative pieces in the exhi- bition is the hall table Male Box Fish by Geoff Hague, which takes its inspiration from local wildlife in order to develop a vocabulary which is intrinsically Australian.

Focus on an Australian iconography is not new but, excepting a period during the 70s in which Australian ceramicists in particular heightened their palettes in response to American "funk" ceramics, nationalistic motifs are rarely accompanied by such chro-

matic tension.

Hague admits this is an experimental piece in his repertoire, which is otherwise redolent of colonial provincial forms and neo-classi- cal inlay decorations.

However, at least in the pieces in this exhibition a common element is their organi-

cal framework.

A Tallboy chest of drawers by Matthew Long, in which a variety of materials, includ ing galvanised iron, aluminium tube, stain- less steel wire and wood is manipulated, is antithetical to such organically inspired

forms.

Long pushes the formal parameters of de- sign, exploiting their structural nature with

much confidence.

As if to demonstrate a dichotomy in his work, other pieces, especially the Jewellery box, focus on a different aesthetic, emotive rather than mechanical.

Although a few of the pieces in the exhibi- tion are pedestrian, or at least predictable, many show thoughtful assimilation or refine ment of traditional forms, while some are experimental and innovative in their design.

However, such provocation is not neces- sarily appealing.

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