Norton Flavel might be best known by the Western Australian public as the creator of the giant goon bag sculpture at last year’s Sculpture by the Sea exhibition (officially called Bulk Carrier, not The Giant Goon Bag). This year he has another piece in the annual exhibition at Cottesloe Beach, a gravity defying, oversized ball and chain. The piece, entitled Lucky Country, won Norton the WA Sculptor Scholarship to be shared with joint winner Kim Perrier. We caught up with the award winning artist to chat about his practice.
Norton Flavel with his sculpture, Lucky Country, in this year’s Sculpture by the Sea exhibition. Photo courtesy Sculpture by the Sea.
Official job title: Artist and Director of Blastform.
Tell us about your career background and how you’ve come to where you are now:
After studying visual arts at ECU where I majored in painting, I was offered a position to manage The Cannery Arts Centre in Esperance. I returned to Perth to join ECU as gallery manager for Spectrum Gallery. I continued to work there in glass and sculpture, finishing after 11 years in January this year.
About 6 years ago I started a metal forming company, Blastform, where we use unique ways to form and harden metal using explosives and water pressure. I used these methods developed with Blastform to form the spherical inflated stainless steel ball of Lucky Country.
I now plan on focusing more of my time on my art practice and continuing to develop Blastform.
Norton Flavel, Lucky Country, photo by Clive Yee.
Describe your workspace:
I am in the process of moving into a larger studio and work between a small home studio and larger workshop space.
What is the best thing about your job?
I love the challenge of trying to make my ideas come into form, to create what seems impossible, and to see others enjoy my work and make connections with it. That is very rewarding.
Take us through a typical day of your work:
Good coffee to get me started, emails, planning, sorting projects and working through different processes. It’s always changing and depends what is coming up throughout the year.
I need to source materials and work through different processes depending on the piece I am working on. Some days its more planning and nutting things out, and then it can be long days and even weeks of just going at it to create what I am happy with.
I paint when I am in the right space, sometimes working on a piece over a period of time.
What music do you listen to whilst you work?
I probably listen to music more to relax than when I am working, depending on the mood it can be anything from classical to jazz and rock. I’m a bit of old 80s tragic. I grew up in Victoria and as a teenager I played saxophone in a band that supported groups such as Pseudo Echo, Divinyls, Mental as Anything and Jimmy Barnes: I still have a bit of it in my system.
Congratulations on winning the WA Sculptor Scholarship at Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe! How do you plan to use the prize money?
The prize money will help greatly towards my next piece for Bondi. I am really looking forward to exhibiting in Sydney.
Norton Flavel, Bulk Carrier.
Thinking of your current piece Lucky Country and also Bulk Carrier that we saw in last year’s Sculpture by the Sea exhibition, I feel like your work critiques and illuminates certain aspects of Australian culture. Is that something that informs your work?
Yes, it’s hard for me to define but I like to make a connection to underlying themes I see in our Australian culture and psyche, both positive and negative.
I also think that successful artwork of any form needs to make a connection to its audience. That is why my sculptures at Cottesloe have been based on forms that most people can easily identify with.
What else inspires your work?
I guess the idea of form and how you can manipulate materials to achieve those forms.
Which local artists/musicians/creatives do you admire?
That’s a hard one because there are many that I have great admiration for and way to many to list. I’d name Stuart Elliot as a visual artist because I love his paintings and sculpture, and admire his skills.
The ones who have broken through to make successful national and international careers would be Tim Winton and also all the various musical projects from any member of the Steele family, not just because they are successful but because they have achieved it by being themselves.
Any advice for those trying to enter into the creative community in Perth?
Don’t try and be like anyone else, put everything you have into your work and don’t be afraid to take risks.
What do you love about Perth?
It’s pretty easy to get around and it’s small enough to make connections easily.
It is still laid back enough, just.
What does Perth need?
I think Perth’s a great place, but I think less focus on trying to be bigger and better and more focus on being creative with what we have.
Most frequented coffee spot?
Living in Mt Lawley I am spoilt for great coffee, but my go-to when I am out and about is Cuppa Joe in North Perth: I send a SMS and they have it ready and waiting, just how I like it.
Best live music venue?
There’s been such a growth in great venues over the past decade in Perth I can’t pick a favourite, I guess it depends who is playing.
I’d have to say Cottesloe with Cable Beach in Broome a close second.
Up north or down south?
Can’t beat the South West, we stay anywhere between Boranup & Busselton.
Rottnest Island is a family favourite it’s an amazing place to be. We were there for Christmas this year and I especially like it in winter.
Also, I love Albany where I made most of my work Lucky Country. I was able to escape the worst of the Perth heat. Norton
You can see the amazing sculptural work, Lucky Country, at Sculpture by the Sea on Cottesloe Beach – the exhibition is on now and runs until 23 March. It was one of our favourite pieces!