Having a family member as creative and business partner can make things easier, or it can make them even harder. It’s been only the former for artist Maddie Sharrock, one half of the sister-duo behind trailblazing cement ceramics label Studio Twocan. ‘It was always a springboard for Becc and I, knowing that eventually we would pursue careers in our own fields,’ tells the grounded artist, who’s just unveiled her next evolution.
‘Future Relief’, an exhibition of Maddie’s new solo art practice, brings together 13 sculptural works focusing on a unique revival of traditional relief designs that would originally be seen affixed to the facades of ancient Egyptian or Roman buildings. ‘During the 19th and 20th centuries the art form was often used as a decorative feature in revival Classical and Gothic architecture, as is evident around many cities including Melbourne,’ details Maddie, a VCA graduate of Sculpture and Spatial Practice. ‘I have brought this ancient style into the 21st century by adding colour and using digital machinery – altogether it has the feel of artefacts from the future!’
At the same time, Maddie’s new body of work experiments with balance, contrast and repetition. ‘A number of the pieces are presented in contrasting pairs or as perfectly symmetrical forms, presenting either opposing or harmonious forces depending on the viewer’s personal translation of the work,’ she explains. Maddie’s concept was actually sparked when she visited New York last year. A tour of the Met had her enthralled with studying comparisons between the handiwork of ancient craftsmen and that of contemporary sculptors like Barbara Hepworth and Constantin Brancusi.
Back in Melbourne, devising a technique using CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine routed moulds for Cult Furniture’s 2016 Charity Chair Project first gave Maddie the confidence to attempt pouring large-scale works. ‘Exciting technology developments like CAD and 3D printing help me to formulate original ideas and designs. Being an artist, I not only want to create beautiful objects but I also want to be a storyteller of my time,’ she tells.
Up until recently, Maddie had been making everything in Becc’s backyard in Flemington, but she has just moved to a new studio and roomier workshop in Airport West. Taking us through her process, the artist modestly prefaces: ‘It’s probably boring to most people but here are a few facts that might be of interest…’ There’s the distinctive layering of coloured cement with vibrant pigments, inspired by Australian landscapes; concocting the right mix of materials – fast-drying, lightweight, polymer-based, plaster-based, fibreglass-reinforced, normal grey, off-white? – to suit the look and function of each piece; and then sculpting using CAD software linked to CNC machines to cut precise polystyrene moulds – the opposite of boring!!
Upon leaving art school, Maddie felt that she ‘walked away with a head full of ideas but not enough practical skills to produce the works of art [she] had in mind’. After a year taking creative odd jobs abroad, plus three years learning and experimenting alongside Becc, the artist has definitely built up her know-how and confidence. ‘Starting out as a creative can be tough in the beginning, but Melbourne has this great network of people that find ways to leverage and inspire each other to keep at it,’ she says. ‘If you don’t get commissions, then create the work for yourself; that’s how I started out. But I have to also acknowledge family, friends and peers for all the support and opportunities I’ve been given!’
Following the exhibition and some exciting commissions (including a special edition of works for a TDF event later this year – stay tuned!) Maddie Sharrock will be heading off to Tasmania for an artist residency. Studio Twocan wares will continue to be available online and through selected stockists.