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Wood sculptor makes public art out of trees downed in Darwin by Cyclone Marcus

By Jesse Thompson, Thursday March 22, 2018 - 15:47 EDT
ABC image
The completed work took about six hours to finish. - ABC

The term "public art" might conjure up images of graffiti or large-scale installations, but Joel Mitchell's work involves a couple of chainsaws and trees destined for the chipper.

And he's like a painter in an arts supply store after Cyclone Marcus, in which he estimates some 80 per cent of tall African mahogany trees in one suburb were downed.

"That's part of the beauty of timber," he said.

"What you see on the outside is very rarely what's on the inside; each tree is different and each tree species has its own characteristics."

Over five hours one hot afternoon this week, the thick trunk of an African mahogany was sculpted by Mitchell's chainsaw, coming to resemble a twisted fallen tree.

Coated in sawdust and sweat, the artist shaved away the layers of bark to reveal wood the colour of butter, beetroot and pumpkin.

"When you start carving into that, you just discover these incredible contour lines, colours and textures and just really beautiful contrasting colours."

Mitchell has been sculpting wood as a hobby for about two decades but recently took it up as a full-time profession.

Now he has larger exhibitions in the pipeline.

His fallen tree work was selected because of its public location and suitable working height.

Since Cyclone Marcus tore through the area at the weekend, Darwin's Lord Mayor has brought forward a motion for council to consider removing large, shallow-rooted trees from the region for good.

A working group has also formed to give the ubiquitous fallen trees a second life outside of the woodchipper.

"I guess it's in a public space so people can see the trees a bit differently rather than just waste," said Mitchell, who is involved with the working group.

"Two days ago this was a piece of timber that potentially could've just been chipped, and now five-and-a-half hours later it's become a work of art that has value."

But Mr Mitchell said the future of his latest work was uncertain — and the decision would not be his to make.

"It's council land and it's a council tree, so I don't know what the council will do with it.

"I know on social media there's a lot of conversation about who's going to get it, and there's a lot of interest, but it's not mine to give away."

In a statement, a spokesperson for the City of Darwin said it would remain open to the idea of preserving the artwork.

"While council is happy to consider the idea, at present our priority remains in managing matters of urgency and public health and safety."


© ABC 2018

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