Signatures Review

SIGNATURES – 25th Anniversary Exhibition 1983-2008, Bungendore Wood Works Gallery, Kings Highway, Bungendore, until November 19, 2008. Open daily 9am to 5pm.

A signature is defined as a person’s name or initials, as a mark or significant appearance. The title of this exhibition has been chosen deliberately – eleven fine woodworkers, most of whom who have been associated with Bungendore Wood Works Gallery throughout its existence, make significant and exceptional work – and generally it is recognisable.

Bungendore Wood Works has a strong altruistic streak to its commercial activities. All those who work there are committed to bringing the narrative of the making of a piece – small or large – to the purchaser. Who made it, where it was made, what timber is it made from: these questions form part of the story behind a work. The Gallery is imbuing the work of its makers with the notion of a ‘signature’.

The exhibiting makers have taken the importance of the 25th Anniversary to heart, and have created memorable pieces that are identifiably theirs.

A large proportion of the work on exhibit is furniture – several dining suites, cabinets, rocking chairs and tables.

The makers have a high respect for their materials, whether they buy it or harvest wind-felled logs. Many use veneers they cut themselves on a base of eco-ply. This approach both opens up and restricts their designs. Their influences are many: Tony Kenway (showing Fema Dining Suite in Northern silky oak, and Rocking Chair in quilted Queensland maple) is influenced by the sensuous curves of the Spanish architect and designer, Gaudi. I doubt if there is one straight line – other than the table top – in his pieces. The golden timber is figured and highly polished, which I find excessive. However, Kenway has a strong following in the United States and this is the way they like their furniture.

A dining suite is a major investment for many people, and viewers can choose Winser Suite in redgum with suede upholstered chairs, or B-Spoke Table and four Scy Chairs in blackwood by Gray Hawk, from Adelaide. The figured blackwood radiates from the centre and is contained by a circular ‘frame’. The design of the pedestal base, a laminated concave barrel with Ebony detailing, gives stability and a small footprint.
Robert Howard is showing two seemingly different works: a rocking chair in blackwood, and a virtuoso piece - a carved bowl in Australian red cedar. The wall is of overlapping ‘petals’ that increase in size as they rise from the heavily fluted base. The carving is fine and the proportions are precise.

Brisbane designer-maker Frank Wiesner does not consider himself an artist, but viewers undoubtedly will. He is showing a well proportioned, practical writing desk/cabinet in silver ash and Queensland black walnut. The doors on the lower half open out to a fitted filing drawer and two smaller drawers. The writing shelf opens to reveal a traditional range of fitted shelves and tiny drawers. The top half of the cabinet has eight drawers plus a secret compartment.

Several side tables are on display. David Mac Laren, artistic director of the Wood Works Gallery, is exhibiting Cloud Five - Long Table. Turning tradition on its head, the base is from Star Fire glass, while the table top is of a slab of huon pine. The edges of the top has been finished and left ‘raw’; a hole has been left unfilled, giving the table a slightly retro look, but respecting the previous long life of the timber.

SEPT II, a less conventional side table, is being shown by Neil Erasmus. Based on the figure ‘7’ – hence the name – the table is formed by two 7s in Western Australia blackbutt placed back to back, with one top being significantly lower than the other. The two are joined by a backing board of curly jarrah, and an acrylic sheet. The lower surface and the back are scattered with figures of 7.

Will Matthysen is a clockmaker who uses a large number of contrasting timbers for each of the working components of his clocks. The contrast of colours and textures highlight the working parts and the cases reflect his interest in architecture and sculpture. The clocks are superb examples of his exquisite work.

Grant Vaughan, who carves vessels of breathtaking simplicity, is showing Split Form # 6 in red cedar. Made from two identical pieces of polished, glowing red timber the form is finely balanced, with a delicate finishing touch at the top rim.

John Comacchio, better-known for furniture, is exhibiting a Semi Acoustic Electric Guitar in blackwood, lancewood, with mother of pearl and ivory.

Several other makers are also exhibiting their work. This is an important exhibition – for the Gallery, the makers and the viewing audience. I encourage anyone who is interested in fine furniture to take the trip to Bungendore.

Friday 17 October 2008