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Surrey Sculpture Studio

In other studios you can often only buy what you see

609 Canterbury Rd Surrey Hills 3127 VIC AU

+61 (0)3 9836 9555

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They call it 'Architectural Ceramics.' Graeme Foote and the four other sculptors who work with him at Surrey Sculpture Studio continue this craft that had died out around World War I.

In the heart of the Surrey Sculpture Studio building is the tearoom. Graeme begins to tell me about the business he co-owns with wife Angela and I am taken with the drawings pinned on all four walls. The illustrations are a diary of a girl's life; one is of a first experience of going away on camp. The illustrator is Graeme's daughter. He is very proud of her accomplishments and this collage of her girlhood.

Click here to enlarge (popup 62K)Graeme is an artist who is comfortable with life in reality whilst having the enviable quality of producing art with his own hands. Just beyond the tearoom sliding door is a busy L-shaped studio where the clay is worked. There are a few sculptures set out on tables. One piece immortalises a client's son in the form of a leprechaun. "Clients are welcome to bring in a drawing they have done to show what they would like produced. We are not too precious to do such work. Our work is never bought on impulse. People hunt us out because they don't want to buy reproduction artwork. In other studios you can often only buy what you see."

Click here to enlarge (popup 89K)Graeme, Peter, Marcus, Scott and Malcolm meet with their clients throughout the sculpting process to ensure that all are happy with the direction taken. The process may take between 20 weeks and a year depending on the size of the project. "We have a lot of repeat clients. Jeff Kennett (ex-Premier of Victoria) commissioned a lot of work... In the 25 years that the studio has existed, only twice Graeme felt morally obliged to say to a customer that he doesn't think they can do anything for them. "I've not sold to some individuals who view the artwork as a possession."

Click here to enlarge (popup 62K)Along with concerning himself with the happiness of clients, and integrity of the art, Graeme oversees his sculptors within a framework that encourages individual growth. "Once a month each sculptor can design their own work within certain perimeters; it must be a sculpture, be functional, be made of ceramic although it can contain metal. All five sculptors then pitch their ideas to each other, brainstorm and evolve the designs to a point where they may be good enough to be in the shop's product line. "Everyone's diverse in our own makeup. I can pick something and know who produced it. For example, none of the other sculptors mirror what I do. If the piece has a face, most clients prefer the faces Graeme makes. He often asks his daughter to sit for him, so perhaps it is in the creating of a loved image that encourages this skill in him. "I recognise the strengths in the others and work to bring them to the forefront."

He speaks of life experience as a resource in art development when he describes how his fellow artists are travelling down their own life paths. "An idea by one person can spark everyone else's ideas intoClick here to enlarge (popup 58K) taking different directions." I find it intriguing when Graeme tells me that when he needs to employ someone he never advertises for a sculptor, but for a 'general hand'. He takes a person on as an apprentice in the old-fashioned terms of teaching a person from scratch, much like they did in Rodin's day. Rodin has been Graeme's favourite sculptor since the age of 9.

As seen in his daughter's drawings, and the choice he has made in taking apprentices on, and his willingness to work with the pure, unskilled ideas of clients, Graeme sees potential in places others do not look.

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