Lee Black

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Up and coming metalwork artist Lee Black takes us on a creative journey and shares with us his inspiration and the artistic process behind his latest project for the Queen Elizabeth Park Playground.

You completed an apprenticeship with your father at Shearwater Engineering. How did that shape you and your artistic career?

I had completed a mechanics apprenticeship, which did not fill any artistic ambitions, when I was lucky enough to be offered a second apprenticeship at Shearwater Engineering with my farther. It was a great opportunity to learn skills in metal forming and fabrication that I could apply to my artistic endeavours. 

I acquired a lot of skills through fabricating domestic and commercial kitchens and bench tops for local kitchen manufacturers, as well as working with specialised equipment in the dairy packaging industry for Yoplait, Nestle and Murray Goulburn. In 2009 I was awarded TAFE NSW Mature Aged Apprentice of the Year. I took the plunge in 2017 and started Burnished Projects. 

When did you first become interested in sculpture, and how did your passion start?

I have always loved creating things from childhood, whether it be from lego, timber or clay, from an idea, to a sketch, to turning it into a 3D object. In addition, travelling around the country installing equipment provided much inspiration. Here, I was lucky enough to see different architecture, sculptures and art installations like “Sculptures By The Sea”. 

I have a connection with cool shapes and patterns in different forms, may that be natural or man made. In my spare time, I started to use my skills to create some sculptures for family and friends; I also entered local art competitions. I love to be able to create something with meaning and visual impact.

Have there been any major influences in your career? 

I did art in school and was encouraged by teachers to follow this path. My parents, although encouraging my art, suggested I needed a trade to earn a living. They now see my art as my passion and are very supportive of my work.

What artistic process do you undertake when starting a new design?

I may be fiddling with some materials or see something that takes me in a direction to explore. If it is a design for a customer, I need to look at their constraints, how high, how delicate or bold, is there a meaning or what’s the need for the project. I like to look at the site, check out the local conditions, lighting, exposure and of course, the safety requirements. 

I always consult with the customer about their expectations, as some people have trouble seeing the concept I have in mind. After that, I usually sketch the concept. Then comes the hard bit – engineering the design and experimenting with different fabrication processes, materials and finishes to achieve that wow factor.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

My inspiration comes from many forms, whether it be the latest trends, contemporary shapes and patterns, or as simple as nature and natural formations.

You recently completed a major work for Rotary; tell us a bit about it.

It’s funny how it came around. I happened to be working in Victoria, when I received a news article about Rotary needing ideas from the general public on a shade structure for Queen Elizabeth Park playground. I came up with a few concept sketches and went to a meeting. The group seemed happy with my sketches, and I continued to go to the meetings. It took quite a while to get to the final design, which had to comply with strict regulations and design constraints. 

The idea was to create a tree dappled light shade structure over the play equipment for the early part of the day, until the surrounding trees casted shade in the afternoon. Uncle Russell Saunders created a pattern for the dappled light, and I adapted the pattern into the leaves of the canopy. 

It was an enjoyable experience to have the opportunity to work with the Rotary Sunrise on the Manning committee. I have great respect for the committee and those who think of these projects. They are all busy people who raise funds, volunteer their time and make it happen.

This is not your first installation. Tell us a bit about the other sculptures you’ve designed for the local area?

I have done a few local public art installations. My first commission was the Abacus, an interactive sculpture in Victoria Street, Taree. This sculpture was part of the “Vibrant Spaces” initiative, led by Graham Brown. Another example of my work is the bike rack located in front of Raw Sugar. Its aesthetics are based on a fig tree, and it’s a functional compact bike rack for speedy cycles.

What effect do you think art has on our streets and amongst the community?

If nothing else, art is a conversation starter. Some like it, some hate it, some don’t care. I think art softens public spaces; it creates a pleasant place to be and gives our town a point of difference.

Are there any future projects in the pipeline?

I have ambitions to have works in Sculptures by the Sea in both Bondi and Cottesloe. I also have some small projects I’m working on and continue to look for opportunities to produce high quality sculptures, art pieces and interior/exterior domestic and commercial work.  

What’s the best way to contact you?

You can contact me on 0432 436 070 or email lee@burnishedprojects.com.au – in addition, you can visit my Facebook page, Burnished Projects.

Thanks Lee. Interview: Bronwyn Davis.

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