"Mon" is short for "Monster", the nickname Brett Garling earned from his childhood fascination with animal specimens, bones and anatomy. The name stuck and Garling's fascination grew, culminating in his life-sized figurative and animal bronze sculptures. Along the way, he has maintained his devotion for all of nature with his plein air paintings of the landscapes of his native Australia.
In 2004, Garling established a foundry, sculpture garden and gallery, the Garling Gallery, in Wongarbon, New South Wales. He has exhibited throughout Australia and is a member of the Sculptors Society and the Australian Plein-Air Artists Group. Garling was awarded a Fellowship by the Australian Institute of History and Arts in 2006, in recognition of his contributions to the field of sculpture.
Garling wrote to us about growing up in a remote area of Australia and his earliest artistic inspirations.
Western Symphony 16 x 16" Oil
I spent the early formative years of my life growing up in the remote opal-mining town of Lightning Ridge. My mother was an amateur painter and potter and I would join her on the opal fields as a very young child on her outings to paint. I would spend my time carving animals out of soft sandstone with a butter knife while she worked. From my earliest of memories there has never been a memorable moment that didn’t involve a pencil and I have never thought of being anything but what I am.
Living in a remote town meant no contact with galleries, museums or art classes. My first visit to a major gallery didn’t happen until my late teens while visiting my grandmother in Sydney. There I had my first contact with the Australian Masters such as Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts, Hans Heysen and Rayner Hoff.
Although mum was an artist it wasn’t considered a "PROPER JOB" and the only art books we had were a couple of old "How To Paint Trees" type books. I collected comic books like most kids and these were a great source of inspiration. Jolliffe’s Outback was a regular paperback cartoon that featured the characters and the bush that I was living in, the sketches were beautifully drawn and to this day still rate as inspiration for both their character and design. Nature has always been my teacher, I learn something new every time I look and am constantly humbled by its beauty.
Did you pursue a formal education in art? Funnily, I wasn’t accepted into art school. I had been working part time during my final years of school as the illustrator for a large zoo In Dubbo where we lived at the time. I would ride my bike out to the zoo after school to draw and take notes, working behind the scenes and often in animal enclosures. This job was the "bee's knees". Unfortunately school ended and I had to find something more permanent to do with myself.
Armed with a portfolio of published work I had done for the zoo, I attempted to gain entry into several art schools only to be turned away—the best thing that could have happened to me now that I look back on it! That was the early 90s and throwing paint at walls and tying yourself up in barbed wire was all the rage! As a result I spent some restless years trying to find my feet, becoming a school teacher for some time, but, always with art on my mind.
Some fortunate meetings over that period with some proper artists, whom I still consider my closest friends, gave me hope and direction and got me creating seriously again. I had soon quit teaching, moved back to the country with my young family and started going out to paint with my mates—the rest took care of itself. Many thanks to Les Graham, Kasey Sealy, Doug Sealy, Bruce Roberts, Warwick Fuller and more recently John Crump and the many others that inspired me.
Norah Head 24 x 24" Oil
Please tell us about your processes and materials.
I’m definitely a plein air sort of guy. I don’t often do any studio paintings, although I think the two do go hand in hand. Learning to paint from life is the only way to learn, but refining that quite often takes studio time where you have less pressure to get something down quickly.
The spontaneity and freshness of working directly with nature is an adrenaline rush that just doesn’t happen in the studio for me. Besides, I’ve always got a sculpture staring at me wanting attention in the studio! I always choose a subject because of the light and usually start with a turpsy few design lines, then work in the darkest tones to lightest, concentrating on big design shapes and colour masses first.
Depending on the nature of the subject, I'll sometimes go straight at the focal area if the light is changing rapidly and a quick statement is needed. Other times I may go straight in, without drawing in the design, with full bodied paint. These works are usually sunsets or sunrises where the light is changing so rapidly you have no time to dally! This approach can be a little hit-or-miss, but it does force you to be spontaneous, relying on what skills you have acquired.
I hardly ever use photo references as I try to complete a work in one sitting outdoors and will return the following day to finish off a larger work if need be. I learnt early on to place little trust in photos. Overwhelmingly those that use photos become tight and photographic over a period of time.
Red Bend 16 x 24" Oil
Morning Sparkle 16 x 24" Oil
My palette never changes, as you can mix any colour from the basics. I use, Titanium White, French Ultramarine, Cobalt Blue, Cerulean Blue, Cadmium Red, Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Yellow Light, Yellow Ochre, Alizarin Crimson, Burnt Sienna and Viridian Green.
What inspired you to begin your work in sculpture?
The inspiration to sculpt never had a light bulb moment. I can only describe it in the same way we learn to walk or talk—it just happens! There have been moments of great inspiration over the years that have made me think in a different way about the elements of sculpture but the original impetus remains an intangible thing.
As a child I got the nickname of "The Little Monster" or "Mon" for short, due to my fascination with anatomy and the habit of collecting bones and dead animals, dragging them home and piecing them back together to better understand how they worked from the inside out. I think that early fascination with anatomy was the primary spark into sculpture and the need to understand form.
Over the Top Bronze
How did you learn the skills needed to cast your own work?
Learning the technical side of casting and foundry work has been a trial and error process. Back in the days when I was learning, the Internet hadn’t come about yet and the foundry industry in Australia was very small and closed off to the sharing of knowledge. So, many hours of sourcing books, talking with blacksmiths and material suppliers and lots of trial and error situations finally brought me to the place I am now—running my own foundry and casting large monumental pieces. The bottom line is, if your passionate and determined you will find a way!
How are you able to maintain your painting along with your sculpture?
The beauty of sculpting and painting is that one gives me a mental break from the other while at the same time both are developing the same "art brain". I always find that a breakthrough in my painting will correspond in my sculpting and vise versa. Because I spend so much of my time in the studio sculpting, getting out first thing in the morning to paint and be in nature gets my day off to a flying start, like doing art yoga! Like all aspects of life, balance is the key.
The Three Sisters 16 x 24" Oil
Lumps and Bumps 24 x 24" Oil
Have you had the opportunity to travel and paint outside of Australia?
Several years ago I travelled to New Zealand with a couple of painting mates, Barry Back and Garry Dolan. This trip was a life changer for me. Never before had I experienced such breath-taking scenery and felt so motivated to paint. The Southern Alps with its snow capped peaks, waterfalls and turquoise lakes were a far cry from the dry and often harsh environments I was used to. Since that first trip I have made others, meeting up with some of New Zealand’s greats like John Crump, Richard Robinson and Californian Scott Hamill. This trip has become a yearly pilgrimage that we as a group eagerly look forward to.
Do you teach either painting or sculpture?
I do teach from time to time and would love to do more teaching. Passing on knowledge is critical to the development of culture and society. To give a little back, I think, should be the mantra for all. Unfortunately, large bronze commission work keeps me flat out all year round, so teaching at the moment is on a limited basis, although I often have interested artists spending time with me in the studio and foundry.
What are your goals for the future in your art?
My goal or focus has never changed, get better at what I do! There is a saying around the plein air camps that I stick to: "It's easy to be different, but hard to be good.” That is my mantra and focus. In the future, subject-wise, I'd like to explore some of the more remote ranges that Australia has to offer. We are a country of great diversity and beauty, with endless subjects for paint and clay. I am also working towards a documentary series based on the travelling artist that I hope to get off the ground soon.
Finally, what words of encouragement would you give a beginning artist? Find like-minded people. Learn from the best you can find. Be critical of your work. Have a thick skin, but, most of all, have a work ethic that matches your passion. Look after your work and it will look after you!
"Mon" is short for "Monster", the nickname Brett Garling earned from his childhood fascination with animal specimens, bones and anatomy. The name stuck and Garling's fascination grew, culminating in his life-sized figurative and animal bronze sculptures. Along the way, he has maintained his devotion for all of nature with his plein air paintings of the landscapes of his native Australia. In 2004, Garling established a foundry, sculpture garden and gallery, the Garling Gallery, in Wongarbon, New South Wales. He has exhibited throughout Australia and is a member of the Sculptors Society and the Australian Plein-Air Artists Group. Garling was awarded a Fellowship by the Australian Institute of History and Arts in 2006, in recognition of his contributions to the field of sculpture.
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