At first glance, Al Phemister’s dandelions are works of such incredible lightness that you feel a puff of breath would blow them away. On closer inspection, it turns out the sculptor’s delicate disintegrating flower heads are in absolutely no danger of falling apart. They’re made from concrete reinforcements — plastic-tipped bar chairs — sturdily welded together and firmly planted in the ground.
Al can see potential where others see mundanity. From his studio in the NSW southern tablelands town of Yass, he takes sprockets, washers, horseshoes, chicken wire and other scrap metals and discarded industrial building materials and turns them into objects of gentility, fluidity and soft beauty. Al’s studio is in the grounds of a rambling hub of creativity surrounding the 1853 extended cottage he shares with his artist wife, Sara, and teenage children, Annie and Jack.
Born into a family of builders, Al’s formal qualifications are in greenkeeping and horticulture. A firm believer that you can make anything if you work hard enough at it, Al has renovated and extended the family home, adding an outdoor dining room and an upper level to the original four-bedroom cottage along with sundry cubby houses and outbuildings in the garden.
“I’m best described as an artist by accident,” Al says. “I just happen to make sculpture for a living. Sara is the real artist in our family. She’s the one with the fine arts degree.” Sara works in paint, fabric and graphics and has recently illustrated a children’s book with her trademark naive works. The Phemisters’ home is crammed with examples of their work and those of many artist friends who call the Yass Valley home. Both Sara and Al are members of YASSarts, an affiliation of local creatives who open their home studios for the Yass Arts Trail on the first weekend of each November. Some of them also exhibit at Sculpture in the Paddock, an exhibition held at the same time at the National Trust Cooma Cottage on Yass Valley Way, on the outskirts of Yass.
Al says his first foray into metal sculpture came when Sara needed some support frames for growing sweet peas. Not content just to make a purely utilitarian object, Al crowned his work with a chicken fashioned from wire. Next up, a friend handed him a bag full of rusty old horse shoes.
“First, all I could think of was 1980s copper art,” he recalls. “But, eventually, I turned them into a pear shape. It took me quite some time to get there but my Pair of Shoes sculptures became very popular and I’ve now had more than 100 commissions.”
Read more about Al Phemister’s rise to success as a large-scale sculpture in the February issue of Australian Country. Click here to purchase this issue!