QUEANBEYAN sculptor Neil Dickinson is popping up everywhere at the moment. His stencilled, steel birds pop up from parking posts in the new Crawford Street lifestyle precinct. The stainless steel bin panels depicting Australian flora are also his. So too the floating pages of poetry that adorn the new Queanbeyan library.
If he continues at this rate, people 100 years from now will look around the town and consider him to be a prolific, creative master, churning out sculptures at a whim.
But the truth, Dickinson says, is much less dramatic. Following the launch of his new exhibition at The Q earlier this week, he tells the story of an artistic career that's been eked out in the midst of full-time work, raising four children, renovating houses and the recent breakdown of his thirty-year marriage.
In art terms, it's been more the steady tap tap tap of the sculptor's chisel rather than the quick brush work of the painter. Turning his mind back to how he first became an artist is the first challenge. "Well I don't know how far back I should go" Dickinson laughed.
"I was an apprentice plumber, but I'd wanted to go to art school for years. I had two uncles who were artists, and I was always very interested in it.
"But I needed my matriculation to get in because I left school when I was 16. So I went to Reid Tech to get my Year 12 certificate, and then I applied to the Canberra School of Art at ANU and got in.
"Originally I tried to get into the painting department, but I couldn't because it was full. So they asked me could I weld, and because I was a plumber I could weld, so I got into the sculpture department," he said.
He continued to hone his technique throughout the eighties, earning a post grad qualification from Launceston Uni and then returning to the region and setting up the (now defunct) Canberra Bronze Works at Fyshwick with a $100,000 federal grant.
He's also produced many commissioned works to adorn government buildings and residential developments around the region, mostly large, beautifully crafted Australian animals rendered in steel or brass.
And to pay the bills when commissions were slow, Dickinson has also run a landscaping business since the late eighties, which he says has been complimentary to his art."Even though it's not high art in a sense, I'm always trying to create forms and shapes.
And the one thing I was taught at art school was quality of line and shape and form," he said. His latest exhibition works, however, are vivid and brimming with a dreamlike, surrealist energy, or "expressionistic surrealism," as the artist has dubbed them.
A recent trip to Rome sparked the strong classical influence in the new pieces, while the rest was just a letting of creative energy, he said. "I like the idea that they're a bit of mystery, a bit of a puzzle perhaps.
The ones I enjoy are when I get a lump of clay and just express it, so there's no particular logic of where it's coming from, it's just coming from within," Dickinson said.
"And I've always been very interested in classical figures, and the renaissance and baroque [themes]. In 2003 I went through St Peters in Rome and that was amazing I think maybe I'm living in the wrong era, you know what I mean? So my heart's probably in that area, but I try and interpret it in a modern style," he said.
But what links it all together, the fine thread that governs both the works in this exhibition as well as the long road from plumber's apprentice to established sculptor, is Dickinson's quiet, everyday persistence.
"I suppose for me it's about the human triumph over adversity. Even though we're quite physically repressed at times, they're [the sculptures] always fighting and struggling and trying to beat whatever. It can be tough in the world, so it's about representing that struggle I suppose."
* Catch Neil Dickinson's Mind and Soul exhibition at The Q Exhibition Space until Saturday, October 20. Opening hours are Monday-Friday 10am-4pm, Saturday 10am-3pm.