Sculptor Al Phemister had a vision for a small garden wall at the northern entrance to the village of Taralga. Giant dandelions. Five of them. Some were made to look still, others to look like they were swaying in the breeze.
The idea was not only to create a stunning art installation that would draw people to the small community near Crookwell, but also help save lives.
In collaboration with Southern Tablelands Arts, the Upper Lachlan Shire Council created Share R Streets, an innovative art project designed to rejuvenate county streets and encourage visitors and locals to slow down as they pass through towns and villages.
“I went to Taralga to see possible sites,” said Al, who lives and works in Yass.
“I wanted to make sure it was appropriate for the area. When I saw the wall with a garden at the end of the city, with the avenue of trees, I knew it was the perfect place. It was just appropriate for the site – dandelions seem to be made for it.
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The installation is about four meters high and Al typically uses recycled materials for his work. However, he was unable to access enough during the COVID lockdown for giant dandelions, so he used a new material of steel. It took him about a month to work full time on the project.
He delivered it to the council yard in Crookwell so that council staff could set it up, talking to various engineers and other experts to determine the best way to erect it safely in a public place.
Al said it was important that the dandelion plant be larger than life.
“When I went to look at the space, I thought anything that was smaller than the size I had built would be eclipsed.”
The sculptor always prefers to use the old ways of doing things for his art.
“I prefer to use the proven methods when building something,” he said. “I like the traditional ways of doing things.”
He is inspired by his wife Sara, also an artist, his children Jack and Annie, and where he lives, the Yass Valley – a vibrant arts community in and of itself.
So why dandelions?
“I have always loved them. It goes back to my connection to the environment and to the family. I remember kids doing it and then my kids blowing dandelions in the wind. I like that they do it again today.
“With the piece I made for Taralga, I liked the idea of having more than one. Some are still, while others seem to be blowing in the wind. The idea is that they tell a story.
This isn’t the first time Al has been asked to create giant dandelions. He was approached by a businesswoman in Singapore, who had seen his work and asked him to create some for her in Singapore and for a relative in Scotland.
He is also known for his giant pear sculptures made from horseshoes.
“Sometimes people discover the work by word of mouth, other times they come to see you at an exhibition.
“The pear sculpture I made for a client in Kuala Lumpur – they came to Yass to see it. It ended up being one of the biggest I’ve made – it had 624 horseshoes and was about four meters tall.
“I made it in Yass, put it on a tractor-trailer to take it to Sydney, then it was shipped overseas.”
Al’s next exhibition of works will take place at the start of the New Year at the Sydney Botanic Gardens.
More information will be available on its website.