In the Studio with Caleb Shea

Blogged by: Melbourne Central 13 Sep 2014 View comments
Sculpture is in his blood. Both of Shea’s parents studied sculpture and were particularly drawn to the work of American abstract expressionist sculptor David Smith. Following in his parents’ footsteps, Shea studied towards a Bachelor of Visual Arts at the University of Newcastle before moving to Melbourne and completing a Bachelor of Fine Art at RMIT, majoring in, of course, sculpture.
 
“I’ve done it differently, Shea says, “but I was conscious of the art that they liked.” He admits to borrowing one particular shape – an intersecting cross – from his father. “I always tell him about that,” he says, laughing.
 
Of abstract sculpture, particularly the modernist kind, Shea says, “It’s associated with a serious, frowny type of person.” While he can talk the serious, frowny talk, having finished a Master of Visual Art at the Victorian College of the Arts in 2011, he prefers to take a lighter, more open approach – asking questions, not answering them. Since joining gallery Utopian Slumps and gathering a following, he’s been reluctant to describe what his work is to interested collectors and curators, letting its distinct visual language speak for itself.



 
“I’m attracted to the look from having turned pages in books and looked at certain artists and marvelled at certain types of abstraction and built up a catalogue of what kind of abstraction I like,” he says. “I treat it as easily as that.” Whereas Shea’s father described himself as an “abstract expressionist Russian constructivist”, Shea prefers not to subscribe to any particular title or movement at all.
 
Which is not to say that his sculptures aren’t well-considered. Working predominately with steel, but also concrete, wood and bronze, Shea creates geometric forms that borrow from the modernist sculpture tradition without necessarily being a part of it or commenting on it. His approach to his sculptures could even be described as playful. “They’re about shape and form and light and space,” he explains. He pays special attention to the individual charge of each object, he says, and to how they fit together as a group – what he calls a “palette”. 
 
Most important to the development of his works is the hands-on process involved in fabricating them. “It’s all dirty and hard and you’re doing lots of angle-grinding,” Shea says. “It is a really grotty and dirty experience.”



He wouldn’t have it any other way, though. Working directly with his sculptures, Shea can keep his eyes open to happy accidents of form and colour. Sometimes, despite the best-laid plans, chance mistakes happen and sometimes Shea finds himself preferring these to his original intentions. As such, he would never surrender control of the process, just in case one of those occasional surprises slips past him. “I think you give something up when you give the work to someone else to do,” he says.
 
Shea is delighted with the way his sculptures turned out in Melbourne Central. Drawn from works produced for a number of different exhibitions, they form a bold and dynamic “palette”, as he’d call it. He particularly enjoys how they’re drenched in natural light and appear to “float out into the space”. He even notes a parallel between his work and the city he’s come to call home, especially as far as his loose take on otherwise strict traditions goes.
 
“There’s a kind of skirting of having to be serious about everything – and I think that’s a Melbourne thing,” Shea says. “To let it be playful, that’s very Melbourne.”



A collection of Caleb’s geometric sculptures is on display outside Gorman on Level 2 this week.
 

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