IF Alex Asch was to replace his portrait in the new Queanbeyan Cultural Honours Gallery with a self-portrait, it would be made out of various cultural curios and assorted bits of junk, sourced from the op shops, scrap yards and other refuse containers of the capital region.
Mr Asch is an assemblage artist and sculptor, working with found objects and the recycled offcuts of Australian life to create new, thought provoking art works.
And it's been a big year for the Queanbeyan artist. He's one of the first 20 inductees to the cultural gallery and was also announced last week as a finalist in the $25,000 Blake Prize, recognising artworks exploring religious ideas. His piece entitled '76 JCs Continue the Big Charade' features 76 Jesus statues and icons riding atop a convoy of toy trucks and cars. It's the kind of striking image that's propelled Asch to the forefront of his field.
The Queanbeyan Age caught up with Mr Asch in his Crestwood home-slash-studio, and while he was pleased to be one of the artists honoured in the new cultural gallery, he said that he'd like to see the arts play a bigger role in Australian life more broadly.
"We do a lot of stuff for sporting people in Australia, and I think that's great. But I'd like to see the same amount of money put into cultural institutions as well.
"It's been made to feel a little silly in Australia. I don't think we realise the importance of the arts culturally.
"If you were a kid living in Europe, it'd probably be a lot easier to say 'I'm going to be a poet.' But if a kid at Karabar High said that, you'd probably be taken out back and beaten up. It's just because there's a European tradition of poetry.
"(But) If we say that this is important, young people will understand that it's important," he said.
"It upsets me when people say the work in Europe or America or wherever is this great thing; we're as relevant here as anywhere in the world...We have artists in Queanbeyan of international standard, and why not?"
Born in Boston, Mr Asch was raised by his anthropologist parents, and seems to have adopted their cultural curiosity. He immigrated with them to Australia in the late 1980s, and attended the ANU School of Art, where he met wife Mariana del Castillo, a prominent local assemblage artist in her own right.
The two moved to Queanbeyan in the mid-2000s, attracted by the large, converted commercial spaces on offer where artists could live and work. They took over sculptor Neil Roberts' former residence, and have been living out their own, artsy version of domestic bliss inside a converted shop front, with plenty of room for their various projects to take shape.
"It felt to me that when we were looking to buy spaces to both work and live, Queanbeyan was saying "yes. Artists, move in," Mr Asch said.
"I see the Queanbeyan/Canberra relationship as Canberra being Manhattan and Queanbeyan being like Brooklyn.
"I know that sounds a bit silly, but in that sense that Canberra doesn't offer warehouses and big spaces that you can move into and live and work, in the sense that Brooklyn has these big lofts and so on.
"To buy a space and live and work in it ... Queanbeyan seemed to be offering that," he said.
And with Neil Roberts fostering a generation of artists out of his 'Galerie Constantinople' in the late eighties and early nineties, Asch remembers Queanbeyan as the 'cool' place to be.
"When I was in art school ... Queanbeyan was very cool for us. It's almost like it's becoming gentrified (now). It was affordable, but it's becoming less and less affordable.
"It's almost like the golden days of the really avant garde are over, but I think it will increase, just because of the spaces that are available here," he said.