IN CONVERSATION WITH IVAN LOVATT
“TAKE AN ORDINARY PIECE OF MATERIAL AND DON’T NECESSARILY MAKE SOMETHING OUT OF THAT MATERIAL BUT TURN IT INTO SOMETHING ELSE, SEE WHAT YOU CAN DO WITH THAT MATERIAL, AND SEE WHERE YOU CAN APPLY THAT TO CREATE SOMETHING – ART DOESN’T NEED TO RECOGNISABLE”
Ivan Lovatt is a Gold Coast artist and has exhibited at SWELL over the years and is renowned for his wire sculptures. Writer Nicole Browne gains an insight into what inspires Ivan, his connection to art and community and how materiality factors into his process.
You have been involved in SWELL for a few years now and are considered a crowd favourite, receiving the People’s Choice Award often over this time. What brings you back to SWELL?
It has been around 10 years in which I have been involved with SWELL. The first work I entered was a driftwood emu. I was a bit intimidated to be a part of it as back then as I didn’t really see myself as an artist. I looked at SWELL and saw it as a big mountain to climb and wondered if I was worthy of it or not. But I love a challenge and that year I came home with People’s Choice Award. Being a part of SWELL has been a very important part of my career. It was either my second or third time to exhibit when I was introduced to a man from the Jackland Gallery in Melbourne. I ended up making 16 portraits for him for over a year, and he also gave me the opportunity to have a solo exhibition. That year was an integral part of my career, it gave me structure, yet he also gave me the freedom to pick my subjects. It made me feel positive in what I do and helped me to keep moving forward with it. SWELL gives the opportunity to make these connections, and for me, it has been very lucrative in establishing business and personal connections. If I can, I will keep coming back to it. I have a lot of work on at the moment, but I decided to put it aside for SWELL. I am at a stage now where I feel I need to integrate more, so the festival gives me an opportunity for that, to spend time with other artists and connect with the community.
What do you think it is about your work that people feel connected to?
I don’t do work that is necessarily sophisticated which I think makes my art accessible to everyone. I think the public really like seeing an ordinary material turned into something. It speaks to practicality and possibility – I think the kids really like that. I always say, ‘take an ordinary piece of material and don’t necessarily make something out of that material but turn it into something else, see what you can do with that material, and see where you can apply that to create something.”
Your piece this year is called ‘You’re terrible Muriel!” What is so terrible about Muriel? Who is Muriel?
Muriel was a stray Galah who used to come and visit us. She loved my son who was 5 at the time, she loved me, she was all over me, but for some reason, she hated my wife and used to attack her. It was terrible – and a little bit funny too. No harm was ever done, just a lot of squawking and flapping from Muriel and screaming from my wife. Sometimes when I would pick my son up from school, he would ask “Dad can we set Muriel on Mummy today?’ And I would say ‘Of course we can son.’ (It became a bit of a game.) So when we got home, Muriel would come inside and she would hunt my wife down like a guided missile! It wouldn’t be long until we hear screaming and squawking and I would run in and save either my wife – or Muriel, then we would say “You’re terrible Muriel!!!” One day Muriel took flight, and she never came back. I don’t think my wife minded, she wasn’t to keen on Muriel.
You said your first works for SWELL was a driftwood piece. Today your pieces are mostly made from chicken wire, how did you make the transition and come to use chicken wire as a medium?
It could have been anything. I was a builder for many years, so I am a hands-on sort of builder bloke if you like with a lot of artistic vent going on. I have used other materials, mostly anything that was free or cheap. I used to get bits and bobs off the sites like pallets and bags of plaster. But with many other materials, there is a lot of restriction especially when you start getting into the larger sculptures when there is more to consider in regards to weight, maintaining the integrity in your work and the issues of public safety, especially in public exhibitions. With the dynamics of the wire, it is very light, very durable, and you can keep adding to it to make it into something quite strong. Also, it has a grain, almost like in a ply situation, which gives it structural integrity. I think a hexagon material is one of the most dynamic shapes, where it can be flexed in any direction. It allows itself to be stretched, concaved. I didn’t think one day that I would be a chicken wire sculptor. The chicken wire chose me. My inspiration is mostly nature, and there are natural elements to the wire. Its lightness allows for all these textures. It just keeps giving.
You say your inspiration is mostly nature, what else inspires you?
I have done quite a few portraits, which are more personal for me. I like the idea that in portraits they are instantly recognisable, I make sure they are a good representation of the person, not so abstract. I love the challenge in that. That is why I made Sir Edmund Hilary. It was a more personal challenge for me as I had a connection to him through my father. My Dad was a mountaineer, and Sir Edmund Hilary was one of his heroes. When I was a kid, my dad would always say; ‘You’ve gotta have your mountain to climb boy.’ My Dad went on a lot of expeditions.
I have a very high expectation of myself, and there are times in my work where I can get to the stage where I wish I hadn’t started, like any expedition I suppose you can reach that place. That is when I hear my Dad say, “If you don’t wish you hadn’t started boy then you are not trying hard enough, you are not stretching yourself.” I mentioned before, I was intimidated that first year I entered SWELL. SWELL was my mountain, and I conquered it. When I got home, like after any challenge or expedition, I started planning my next one. It’s addictive, creativity is addictive when you find your zone.
What is your connection to art and community?
SWELL is what really connects me and my art to the community. The work I have in public spaces giving people an idea of possibility is a connection, especially with children. The wire is an ordinary material and what they see is what it can become. That is relevant throughout life in a way. Art is a great way to reach people. I am in a situation struggle between what the value of my work is to me versus what value it has for others. I would like to do more community work. Ultimately, I would love to take my work west on tour and teach my craft and get the local children involved. I am reaching a time in my career now where I can see I have been quite introverted perhaps. I have spent a lot of researching and developing techniques, finding ways to make it easier on myself, and I really want to share that. You reach that part in your career where that becomes something you can do. I am a crazy old craftsman, I don’t want to let it all die, I want to pass it on.
Can you talk a little about your creative process?
There isn’t one particular thing. I have a lot of ideas, and the ones I process are the ones that stick, as I don’t write a lot down. I am a very visual person, and I see the work in my mind’s eye first, then mentally I will build that piece. Maybe over and over – the whole thing from start to finish. I see it all, and I have to be careful to keep it real – the physical world and the ideal world are not the same places! It can be hard for me to keep it realistic, but I get through. I saw Muriel before she was built, from start to finish. She started with a feather. Things might not happen exactly as you imagine, but I use the process again to solve the problem. I have a repertoire of techniques – mostly they work, if not it is an opportunity to discover something new. Necessity is the mother of invention if you are committed. Very rarely does it reach a point where it has to stop. I start with a mental picture, and that mental picture is influenced by what is possible – reality sets in and I think “Oh no what have I done”, but you’re committed then.
Nicole Browne @mothersofourhood
Visit Ivan Lovatt You’re Terrible Muriel at Site 30 between 14 – 23 September at SWELL, Currumbin Beach.