24 November 2004

Ricky Swallow: Wood for Thought

Australian sculptor Ricky Swallow, a mastercraftsman carving out a significant niche in the artworld, joins hallowed company with his appearance at the Venice Biennale, writes Michael Hutak.

TIME is running out for rising art star Ricky Swallow. The Venice Biennale is only eight months away and Australia's official representative is feeling the pinch. Two large blocks of jelutong, the Malay hardwood that this master sculptor favours, are still being chainsawed down to size by an assistant, not yet ready for Swallow's chisels and hammers to hone into an immaculate replica of the human skeleton that sits at their side, waiting patiently. Across the studio another curio, a bicycle courier's crash helmet overrun with snakes, is only just taking shape. The man himself is softly spoken, slight, and slightly harried.

"I believe you should only do one thing at a time," he tells The Bulletin on this grey London afternoon in his East End studio. "But right now my head is in three pieces instead of one. This one [the helmet and snakes] should have been finished by now. That one [the skeleton] needs to get started, and the other involves taxidermy and I still have to see a taxidermist next week." The time pressure and logistical demands of the Biennale are intense. "We can't afford to let things lapse into overtime - it's not like you can get an extension - and when things are sitting around half done, it can make me quite anxious."