In Conversation with SWELL judge Charles Robb

Charles Robb creating the likeness of General Sir John Monash  Image: awm.gov.au

Charles Robb creating the likeness of General Sir John Monash Image: awm.gov.au

Charles Robb is an Australian artist based in Brisbane.  His work focuses on sculptural, digital and photographic media and explores notions of subjectivity and incidental form. His work has been seen in both group and solo exhibitions at venues including MONA (Hobart), the Museum of Contemporary Art (Sydney), the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia (Melbourne), the Institute of Modern Art (Brisbane), the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts and Monash University Museum (Melbourne).


Have you always wanted to be an artist? 
No, for a time I wanted to be a radiologist, but was drawn into the field of sculpture by early exposure to Greek ruins.

When did you begin your career in the art world? 
Melbourne, 1993. My first exhibition was a collaborative installation with my partner Courtney Pedersen. A mock home décor showroom held in an old shop front in Collingwood.

Tell me about your artistic journey to date? 
Equal parts cortisol, coffee and bandaids.

I read that you teach at QUT. What do you enjoy about your teaching? 
Working with excellent young people – Gen Z gets a bad rap in the media, but I find them to be inspired and inspiring. (Sometimes I have to make them do star jumps to bring out their best though...)

Was teaching something you always wanted to do or fell into naturally? 
Totally accidental.  I was offered a brief fixed term contract out of the blue by a regional Uni and discovered a new vocation.

What are some of the highlights of your career so far? 
Back in 2004 I was commissioned to do a work for a laneway in Melbourne that became a fake monument to the city surveyor Robert Hoddle - wedged in a greasy alley - I still think it was a pretty interesting gesture..

What has been the most difficult sculpture you have worked on? 
I recently completed a large commission for the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, the Sir John Monash Commemorative Sculpture. It was done in collaboration with poet Sarah Holland-Batt and involved the full gamut of studio processes, clay modelling, silicone moulds, foundry work, welding, concrete modelling and vast amounts of digital play.

What has been your favourite piece that you have created? 
In 2015 I made a life cast of the Ian Fairweather rock on Bribie Island, just north of Brisbane. The textures and shape of the castings still inform my work.

How does it feel to be the judge of SWELL this year? 
It is a great (and greatly daunting!) honour.

If you could have dinner with anyone dead or alive who would you pick and why? 
Eva Hesse – hugely influential American sculptor who died way too young in 1970. I’d love to share a pierogi with her.

What motivates you to create art? 
I am driven by the desire to make something I have not seen before.

What advice would you give to young aspiring artists?  
Art involves forging new worlds, new forms and new connections between people.  There is no more important business in our fractured world, and no time to waste.


Charles Robb was included in the 2012 McClelland Sculpture Survey (Langwarrin, Victoria), he has been shortlisted three times for the Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award, winning commendations in 2002 and 2005, and has been also shortlisted for the National Gallery of Australia Sculpture Award (2005). He has received project grants from Arts Queensland (2000 and 2004) and the Australia Council (2001) and he was awarded an inaugural Freedman Foundation Scholarship in 2001. In 2006, Robb was awarded the Australia Council residency at the Cité des Internationales in Paris. 
In addition to appearing in catalogues, his work has featured in reviews in Art and Australia, Artlink, Art Monthly, Australian Art Collector, Broadsheet, Eyeline, World Sculpture News and Contemporary.  His writing has been published in Eyeline, Photofile and unMagazine.
He is currently Lecturer in Visual Art at the QUT School of Creative Practice.


Haley Smith is an emerging writer and creative from the Gold Coast. She has had an active blog for over ten years where she shares her short stories, poetry and travelling adventures. She has founded a Podcast; Atomic Sunflowers. Here she shares stories about creative living beyond fear, mental health and balancing the creative mind.

Follow her on Instagram @haleylaurensmith or her blog www.haleylaurensmith.com