Written by Sera Waters
After a relatively short four years in the arts, Chris Ormerod admits to some trouble calling himself an ‘artist’ and a similar reluctance with the title ‘sculptor’. The name ‘welder’ though, he proudly wears, and justly so as he has over thirty years experience in this industry where he has honed his metal-working skills. Undoubtedly, welding is at the centre of Ormerod’s practice and his physical experimentation with these techniques is how he happened into the Adelaide arts.
Beginning as a metal-working apprentice in his home country of Scotland, Ormerod, whilst occasionally side-stepping into other skills, has continued to pursue the worldly and ancient trade he calls the ‘dark arts’[i]. After moving to Australia, and finally ending up in Adelaide still using his trade as employment, Ormerod’s friendships and collaborations with local artists led him to embark upon his own artistic practice. A pivotal moment occurred when helping friend George Andric as a fabricator for a Sculpture by the Sea entry entitled Entranceformation. In Sydney, upon seeing the scattering of seaside sculptures, Ormerod had what he describes as an immediate ‘naïve’ but compelling reaction of: ‘I can do that’[ii]. The word ‘naïve’ is retrospectively apt, for he now realises he was entering the arts pleasantly unaware of the struggles ahead, as well as the selfish needs it would fulfil.
Like his trade, Ormerod’s sculptural practice is driven by his love for welding. This is a simple truth, where playing with metal and using his well-trained hands continue to propel a fascination with this joining process. Ormerod appreciates welding as a language; in that through experimentation, one develops their own personal style. His early metal training, working upon grand and awe-inspiring ships, developed Ormerod’s current sculptural style as well as the ethos he now applies to his art practice; a respect for the passing down of generations of knowledge (or how to do things ‘right’) through the mentor/mentoree relationship, and awe for the feats of metal-working. While he fulfils his mentor role by teaching the ‘right’ techniques at TAFE, Ormerod continues what he learned in the ship yards by applying mathematical methodologies such as the ‘golden mean’ and Fibonacci ratios to determine ‘natural’ appearing dimensions in his work. Also a legacy from his time spent working with ocean going liners, is the tendency for Ormerod’s sculptures to grow uncontrollably large; only just fitting under the ceiling in his 2006 solo exhibition at Art Images Gallery. Due to a desire to see his durable sculptures become even larger, his work has recently been finding its place in public art projects.
Earlier this year Ormerod was selected to work under mentor Martin Corbin, with other South Australian practitioners Sandy Elverd and Gerry McMahon, to construct a public art work for the Salisbury Council on behalf of the Northern Suburbs Vietnam Veterans Group. Working on Seeds of Attainment, after much research and time spent with Veterans and their families, was a powerful and moving experience for Ormerod, but one where he could apply his sculptural knowledge to begin to pay tribute where needed. The ability of public art to speak of culturally significant issues to audiences beyond those that attend galleries is appealing to Ormerod and something he wishes to pursue. Early next year he will exhibit in The 2008 Palmer Sculpture Biennial; a timely project where sculptures by many artists are incorporated into Palmer’s[iii] desolate landscape, which by acknowledgment of the indigeneity of the site is slowly undergoing ‘ecological restoration’[iv].
Ormerod’s metal-based arts practice is sustained by honesty. The working of metal, experimentation with welding, involvement in projects, maintaining the balance between passing on practical skills to students and time working from his shed/studio, as well as the state of the world, are all pondered under his welding helmet.
[i]In conversation with the artist, November 30, 2007.
[ii]In conversation with the artist, November 30, 2007.
[iii]Palmer, in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia.
[iv]Malone, Gavin, Palmer Project Update, August 2007.
Sera Waters is an Adelaide based arts writer and artist.
First published in the Craftsouth Bulletin, Issue 3, December 2007-January 2008.