Sometimes I'm really driven to meet an artist or artisan and things will conspire to make that happen. That was certainly the case with Justin Purser. I first saw his work by accident more than twelve months ago. The 2009 Yarra Valley Open Studios kicked off at Sticks Winery with around 50 works by individual artists. They were displayed in the barrel room, so in addition to gorgeous artworks... the smell of wine and wood pervaded the space. Before I even got to the barrel room, I was inspired. I started in the Sticks Winery tasting room. On the way in I was struck by the door handles. No ordinary door handles. Appropriately, a bundle of sticks made out of metal. Simple ideas are always the best. After enquiries with the staff I established that the maker lived nearby and that his name was Justin Purser. I carefully recorded his contact details and made a commitment to contact him. (Perhaps he could make some door handles for my new house?) I have carried his details around with me since then and to my great delight I realised that Justin was one of the participants in this years Yarra Valley Open Studios program. A circle around his studio in the brochure meant that he was the first stop on my 2010 Open Studios itinerary.
This whole story just got better and better. On meeting Justin I was struck by his generous and warm spirit. I felt like a kid in a lolly shop in his studio, so much to see. I enquired about the prospect of door handles for isiiad and we agreed to reconnect later to get the ball rolling. A week later I was back discussing the look of the handles. Justin had also agreed to an interview so we sat outside in the sun and chatted about his work and his dream to mount an exhibition of his own work. I was delighted with the way the interview was going and looked forward to hearing it back later on my little dictaphone (Justin said stuff that was pure gold). You can probably guess what's coming... while it looked like the dictaphone was working... it wasn't. What to do? Over lunch that day I feverishly scribbled down all of the things I could remember. So what follows is a 'cobble together' of my time with Justin Purser. (Note to self...BUY A RELIABLE DICTAPHONE)
Interestingly he started his training in ceramics, completing a Degree in Architectural Ceramics at Monash University's Caulfield campus in 1994. Following on from his degree he worked as a teacher at the Potters Cottage in Warrandyte. After making a metal stand for a pot with some friends he got into the business of metal work. His friends eventually wanted to get out of their business and sold him their equipment. He was on his way.
What he likes most about the work that he's currently doing is the challenge of a site specific project. That keeps him interested, as every job is different. Examples of his site specific work are dotted around the Yarra Valley and beyond. As well as the door handles at Sticks Winery, Train Trak (another Yarra Valley winery)have used his metal work for their signage. Their restaurant, Zonzos, has some fabulous metal dividers which Justin has made for them. The staff at Zonzos spent many hours lovingly threading corks and suspending them within his frame. Their dining tables are adorned with Justin's candelabra and there are examples of his simple furniture in the outdoor dining area. The door handles at Sticks are the mark 2 version. Apparently the first handles he made for them weighed 10 kilos each. Weighing in at 20 kilos in total the door handles were so heavy that they compromised the operation of the doors so smaller versions had to be made. They are just stunning.
More of his work can be seen at The Light Factory Gallery (Eltham), Stones of the Yarra Valley and Tatra Receptions in the Dandenongs.
While fossicking around his studio, I saw some wonderful oak branch balustrates (they are the rusted metal with metal leaves in the slideshow). When installed they will have a nice wide reclaimed timber handrail. The stunning piece at the top of this blog is made from old bolts and is destined for a home at Flinders. It's going to sit on a lawn overlooking the sea so that the owner can see both things from his living room. Now there's a wonderful site! In the winter he plans to light fires in the piece. My imagination was going wild.
The list of work goes on for this prolific artisan. In 2003 he was commissioned to create the steel fencing and front entry gates of De Bortoli wines. The designer was Cric Henry, a Warrandyte landscape designer. The design was of twisted flat steel to represent the grape vines and rolling hills of Dixon Creek.
An artist in residence gig at Scotch College resulted in a double set of driveway gates for the school's Elliot Lodge Scout Camp in Chum Creek. The gates were designed and made with the students.
I'm hoping that as I write this, Justin is working on the door handles we discussed for the front door of isiiad...Watch this space, as you, dear readers will be the first to see them in situ via this blog and yes, I'm excited!
When I asked whats next for Justin Purser, his eyes lit up and he described how he would like to do more of his own work and mount an exhibition. I for one, hope he realises his dream. He was very generous with his time for me and I understand that his generosity has been felt far and wide. A little birdy told me that he made metal signs for all of the studios involved in the this years Yarra Valley Open Studios, free of charge. Some people just deserve to do well in the world and Justin Purser is one of them.
Check out his website www.decorativemetal.com.au