John can you provide a brief history of your journey as an artist?
Over the last 10 years I have been doing sand art performances in a variety of contexts including theatres, festivals, cruise ships, as well as private and corporate events. My sand art was featured at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. I have collaborated with many other artists, including musicians, animators, actors and video artists.
My sand art was part of the 2018 SWIFF LightBox project where artwork was projected onto public spaces in the Coffs Harbour jetty precinct.
I am currently collaborating with computer artist, Adam Hinshaw to produce a show for the Botanica event at the Coffs Harbour Botanic Gardens in November.
Can you describe the technique of sand painting?
Sand art is drawing pictures in sand on a light-box. The sand forms a silhouette against the illuminated glass creating an interplay of light and shadow. A chain of images morph from one to another to create a narrative. The images are projected onto a screen and accompanied by music. I often use a soundtrack, but I love the added dimension and flexibility of working with live musicians. These have included singers, guitarists, keyboard players, contemporary bands and classical ensembles. I performed a live backdrop to illustrate an original opera by Blush Opera at the Bello Fine Music Festival in 2018.
For this gig I will be using recorded music.
How were you drawn to this medium?
In 2009 I saw a video of Kseniya Simonova do a sand art performance on Ukraine’s Got Talent. I was blown away and decided to give it a go. I was astounded by the power of the medium to create beautiful images and tell moving and dramatic stories.
Is this an oft-practiced art-form?
When I first started I was anxious to establish myself as a sand artist before it became too widespread a practice. However, it is still relatively unique and many people either have never seen it or have no knowledge of it at all.
From where does this art-form take its roots?
In it’s contemporary form using a light box and video equipment, it is extremely new. I think Simonova was the first person to do it in this way. However, humans have undoubtably been drawing pictures in sand with their hands for as long as they have been telling stories. I love the fact that it is such an elementary and age-old practice. The other factor is that sand is so common a material across the planet, from deserts to river banks and beaches, that most people have either drawn pictures in sand or built sand castles throughout their life.
Do you work in other mediums too?
Yes, I also paint and draw. My most recent solo exhibition of paintings was in March this year in Coffs Harbour and I am also exhibiting paintings for the ‘Buoyancy’ show.
I’m assuming the impermanence of the art is integral. Most artists work with a finished product at the end. Can you discuss the impermanence and if that adds to your work?
The ephemeral nature of the medium is a key element. When an image is created it may only last a few moments before being obliterated to make way for the next image. I have heard audiences gasp in dismay at this like something is being ‘lost’. I liken the process to live music, where there is perpetual change throughout, and in the end there is silence. A flower, a sunset or a child’s smiling face are all beautiful things and the fact that they are fleeting gives them their power to move people so deeply.
How will you portray the theme buoyancy?
Buoyancy for me is a metaphor for transcendence. Life can be hard and we can be weighed down by troubles, but we also have the ability to rise above these problems and find beauty and lightness. Many of my sand stories explore this theme.
Performance must add another dimension to your work. Do you love the performance element?
I love the exhilaration of performing live. It does add to the intensity due to the risk of ‘stuffing up’. However, when I am ‘in the moment’ and feeding off the energy of the audience, it is a wonderful experience.