Using artistic flair, a love of nature and a craftsman’s skill, Michael Kolbe hammers, welds and shapes metal, old tools, nuts and bolts into fantastic, amazingly lifelike creations … A sculptor with a very unique vision, Michael’s work would be a talking point in any environment.
Hi Michael. What led you to Old Bar … are you a born and bred local, or a sea-changer?
No, I am not a local. We moved to Old Bar six years ago after ten years in Bobin and 20 in Inverell. So, slowly we have been moving closer to the coast, after having been born and lived for thirty four years in land locked Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
Tell us a bit about your work/family life … What is/was your trade, and how big is your family?
I am married to Carol, and we have three sons and six grandchildren, all living, working and schooling in Sydney.
We came to Australia from Zimbabwe in 1979, when the boys were aged six, four and two, where I was farming at Trangie, but soon moved to Inverell, where I worked for myself doing landscaping, tree lopping and garden maintenance for six years before becoming the grounds maintenance man at the local district hospital, where I stayed for eleven years.
We then moved to Bobin, where we lived for ten years, during which time I worked at various schools in the Taree area as general assistant, before settling near Old Bar.
Having been a farmer, part-time soldier, policeman, builder and maintenance man, I am a multi skilled jack of all trades!
How (and when) did you discover you had a talent for metalwork and sculpture?
In 1995 we returned to Zimbabwe on holiday, where I bought a small metal bird made from scraps of metal, and this triggered my creativity. I began making garden sculptures and tentatively took a load to Armidale markets, where to my great surprise, I sold nearly all of them.
A gallery owner in Bellingen encouraged me to place my work in galleries, so the adventure began – with galleries in Alice Springs and Darwin accepting my work, as well as galleries closer to home.
You use an astonishing array of metal components in your sculptures … I can see hammers, nuts, bolts and screws in your work! Where do you source all of the materials you use?
I need a wide range of tools and materials for my work, so visit garage sales, markets and clearing sales, as well as putting the word out there to any friends and people I meet.
How do you come up with your ideas about what to create next?
Often something I see and want to make sticks in my head, and I make a sketch of it. Books, magazines, Pintrest, Facebook are all sources of information and creativity for me.
Describe your creative process for us, once you have an idea. I.e. do you work from photos or using models – do you make sketches?
To build a sculpture, I first draw a chalk outline on my workbench of the chosen piece, choose the tools or materials for the outline, and weld them together.
Further items are selected to make the work three dimensional. Each item needs to be duplicated, so as to have two legs, feet, wings, etc. Getting the piece standing, balancing and giving it a bit of “attitude“ is extremely difficult and frustrating at times, but when I complete the work, stand back and tell myself it is good, the feeling is difficult to explain.
Any gaps need to be tastefully filled with appropriate materials, without overdoing it.
Every great artist has a workspace that’s uniquely theirs. If we were to walk into your shed, what would we see?
My workspace is uniquely mine, in as much as I can place my hand on what I require most of the time. In my shed you will find my bench in the centre with a mig and stick welder in attendance, a small vice and an assortment of hammers and tools that I use.
You will also find a huge anvil, leg vice, and a forge I made from an old truck brake drum mounted on wheels.
On the far wall is a bench with a large vice and seven assorted power tools for various jobs. There are shelves and racks containing all manner of old tools and interesting items to draw on.
What exhibitions of your work have you held … and what recognition have you received?
Over the past seventeen years I have held exhibitions in Framed Gallery in Darwin, Gallery Gondwana in Alice Springs, as well as in Tamworth, Armidale, Inverell, The Moree Gallery, and Manning Art Gallery.
I have also exhibited a number of times at the Royal Easter Show in Sydney and entered a full sized Wedge-tailed Eagle in the Dame Mary Durack Outback Craft award in Brisbane.
I have had successful wins in the Taree Art Exhibitions and the Taree Waste to Art exhibition. Exhibits at George Hoad’s Art in the Garden have proved successful also, with George’s invitation re-igniting my present sculpting enthusiasm and drive.
Where can we purchase your creations, or read more about your work?
My work can be purchased at Gannon House Gallery in The Rocks, Sydney and locally at Salty Dog Gallery at Coloongolook.
I have an exhibition coming up at Warringah Creative Spaces, Sydney, from 31st August to 11th September 2016, with 40 works completed over the past eight months ready to exhibit.
My work, past and present, can be viewed on Facebook as Michael Kolbe Sculptures or alternatively, contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of Mark Kolbe.