July 4, 2019. It was the famous French artist and sculpturalist Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas (b. 1834 d. 1917), whose works were far more definitive than his name, who told us: Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.
An incredible amount of truth lay here in the magnificent sculpture Elemental being currently constructed by our own Karl Meyer, of Parawa, to be featured on the Hindmarsh Rd corner leading into the second stage of the Ocean Street upgrade in Victor Harbor. Work is expected to be completed in September.
With a wry grin, Karl concedes it won’t please everyone and there will no doubt be emails criticising his work and especially the Victor Harbor Council for wasting the ratepayers’ money.
But will these critics actually see what this six-metre piece of twisted stainless steel embedded in a five-tonne clump of igneous rock – one of the oldest of its kind on earth – really represents? Probably not.
Many of these critics, who have every right to express their view, probably also profess there are just two things in Victor Harbor – Granite Island and The Bluff. Remove the word ‘just’ from here and maybe the proverbial glass is half full.
Karl sees the magnificent splendour of these iconic landmarks. He visualises himself from above looking at the granite folding down through to Port Elliot and the connections in the landscape. He goes around to Waitpinga Cliffs and sees more formations unfold and a remarkable coastline, an ancient landscape. Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas would have also seen this.
In a few months time one sincerely hopes that we see the bigger picture in Elemental, just like we can in other stunning contemporary pieces by Karl in cities and communities around Australia, perhaps none more beautiful and heart-rendering than Connection, with its folding hands, at Centennial Park.
“If you look at Victor Harbor there is so much energy in the life of the landscape; of the island,” Karl said. “It’s a powerful place. For me that was one of the things in this artwork, to try and express that energy and the landscape.
“This not going to be a giant Fairy penguin or a giant whale or something of that nature. This is deliberately starting to move into abstraction. Fundamentally, it is trying to express that uplifting energy in the environment.
“Part of this sculpture is the earth, the sky and the wind. If go back to some of these core parts for me it is how do you show that, the marine environment, the idea that you can actually see the wind and this energy coming through the landscape. You experience that.
“A lot of it is celebrating vibrancy of community and also building a visitor engagement. It is more than a photo opportunity; it has that finding element. You are pointed to down the main street to this beautiful view with the commercial interests on one side and you have the old side on the left.
“You literally come to the roundabout and there is signage and everything else clearly articulating where to go.
“A big thing for me is trying to express in a mildly abstract way that is not literal. Ultimately, it is a celebration of the landscape and the natural beauty.
“Fundamentally, the sculpture has to be of place, and this is the big part about Victor Harbor. This piece is more about trying to show the amount of energy, the waves, wind, landscapes – it’s all raw and there is a reason why people want to get inspired and want to be around it.
“You look at Victor Harbor and it’s a beautiful spot, but it kind of gets lost. It’s liken when you sit in a pond
you say, this is the pond, but when you actually look at it you say it’s a beautiful pond.”
Karl has an impressive background in design, and over the past 12-15 years has moved predominantly into artworks working in a huge shed in Edwardstown. It has been a move from a foundation of understanding materiality into how to expresses shape, form, colour, materials and those kinds of things.
In many ways his point of difference is defined by what an outdoor sculpture appears to be about. “When I see something I think about how much it is about the place and how much is it about the artist,” he says.
“I think part of an artist’s journey is to make sure they are a vehicle for the place and not somewhere to put a mark on top of something… it is just ego, and that is not me. It has to be about place.
“Does someone say, wow, that was interesting, but why is it here? It opens up a question of where they are rather than who was that artist. That is a fine balance.”
Karl realises that as an artist of public works there is a need to resonate with people. There is always that percentage that he will never ever satisfy and have the ratepayer comment.
“Art is something that brings out the beauty and the inspiration in all of us, no matter how old,” he says. “No matter what age or what gender, we should all look at it and say, that’s kind of uplifting and I feel something.”
Far from being lost on Karl is the fact he and his partner Rachel and their three children, have many years ahead of them driving through the main street of Victor Harbor looking at his sculpture, Elemental.
“You express yourself and you say, hey look at my big sculpture, but it’s really like buying a jumper,” he professes. “Do you buy one knowing it is still going to look good in 10 years, or do you buy one that’s bright orange with stripes through it that’s going to last a season?
“I’m the kind of guy who takes the 10 year one.”
But then, if you do wear a bright orange jumper with stripes through it is not what you see, but what you make others see. It’s why art is seen differently by everyone.