In spite of my ability to get in touch with my feminine side when the need arises, I do admire a man with a shed. This admiration doesn’t, in any way, deny the existence or diminish the importance of a woman and her shed. But there is, in my mind, a special relationship that exists between a man, his tools and the place he keeps them.
So, as I head towards Eric Nunn’s shed, buried deep in the heart of Darwin suburbia, my heart races in anticipation. This is a place where stone is cut and silver is ‘smithed’ to produce outstanding contemporary jewellery. I can only imagine it’s presence. Turning into the required street as directed, I wonder how a shed of the dimensions I have envisaged for Eric’s craft, can fit among the blocks of freshly painted units that fill the court. Maybe he has a space in the basement, I ponder hopefully. The sounds of grinders and polishers ring in my memory. My recall of working with gemstones is warmly accompanied with images of my father filling his shed with the paraphernalia of lapidary.
As I step from the elevator I desperately grasp for some sign of shed detritus; dust, shards of rock, grinding tools and cutting implements, a bar fridge and a scratchy radio tuned to the footy. Nothing. Eric ushers me in and all hopes are dashed. Once again my preconceived ideas of what an artist does and how they might work are shattered.
We sit on the balcony overlooking the harbor and discuss Eric’s background. His quiet and friendly manner bespoke my disappointment. He reassures me that he does have a ‘shed’ but it is someone else’s. A large part of his ‘heavy work’, stone cutting and the like, is done at ‘the club’. I envisage large quarry stones milled with blades of diamond imbedded steel.
Eric’s interest in creating jewellery from stone and metal has been with him for many years. He is self taught. In fact, I detect a reluctance to be influenced by someone else’s knowledge. He’s not clear on where his ideas for design come from. Rarely is he influenced by the usual suspects; nature, romance, and a resolve to rid the world of its woes. He looks over to the ocean and I expect an idea to formulate. He’s happy to sip his coffee.
Eric ushers me into his shed. The bottom literally falls from my world.
There is a small side table nestled in the corner of the room. It has a vise clamped to one edge. A devise looking somewhat similar to a dentist's drill is clamped in position. That’s it? Eric opens a small cardboard box and spreads the contents before me; a collection of plastic bags containing chips of brilliantly coloured rock. Blues and greens that mirror the depths of the Earth from which they came.
He pulls from one bag, a necklace with pieces of Lapis Lazuli (don’t you just love that name – something from Merlin’s caldron maybe) imbedded in silver. ‘I had this idea many years back and sketched it’ He opens an old exercise book and shows me the original concept, drawn with precision on yellowing pages. ‘It’s evolved a bit since I re-visited it’. I envisage this exquisite piece against a slender young neck. Eric seems not to care too much about who would wear it.
After admiring the necklace I browse through the sketches. ‘The book is about 4o years old’ he adds casually. I feel like I am reading Eric’s thoughts from the past decades. How does all this happen? Where does it come from?
I grab my camera and stare through the viewfinder. Nothing fits. Eric seemed enigmatic against the backdrop of his craft. His jewellery seems so distant from what he appears to be; like a radio announcer we might meet and be surprised because our perceptions don't fit with the reality. I am reminded of what Lyn Temby had described so well in one of her works. There are many parts to what we are. There is the part we know of ourselves, first and foremost. Then there is the lesser part others see of us, mixed with perceptions, fragmented but ordered. Next is the part we expose to others; the bits we are content with others knowing, clearly defined and controlled. And finally, there is the part of us that even we have difficulty coming to grips with, a jumble of thoughts and processes we are constantly making sense of. I sense that art is a way of exposing part of ourself to the world in a different way. 'You can't see it in me, so here it is in another form. There's more to me than you know and I'll try and describe it the best way I can'. It may well be the reason why we are often surprised by what we see. Its more than we expect. And surprisingly, it's the bit we often value above all things - of ourselves and of others.
Today I got more than I expected. If that’s the sort of thing Eric can produce there is one hell of a bloke in there (in spite of the size of his shed) and my camera could never do it justice.
Eric has an exhibition opening at Territory Craft Gallery on the 23rd of July. I’ll be more than interested in looking for the human responses.