Sculpting has its share of hard manual labour, an essential ingredient in hammering figures out of stone and concrete, but Gaby Porter is petite and gentle in both appearance and demeanour, and it’s hard to imagine her covered in stone dust and laying into hefty sandstone or limestone blocks that then obediently yield to her artistic vision.
Her largest work, a 4.5 tonne ‘Genesis’, symbolising beginnings, is installed by the duckpond at Wollongong University. Also at the university, are her five bronze swamp wallabies that seem to have casually paused among the trees where they form part of the university’s official art collection. Bronze cousins of these wallabies are due to hop over to campuses in Dubai and Hong Kong in late 2019. And there’s the darkened coal miner firmly ensconced in Helensburgh in honour of the coal mining backbone of that little town. Elsewhere, there are commissioned busts of Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson, among others.
But there’s also the smaller and the whimsical: a sitting pelican, head resting on its chest, its body finished in broken, white ceramic tiles that catch feathered aspects of the light in Gaby’s Pearl Beach garden.
‘I like to buy beautiful tiles that reflect the light — not cheap ones, even though I then smash them up — and the broken pieces allow me work with the pelican’s curves, or the subtle lines of a human form,’ says Gaby.
Also in Gaby’s Pearl Beach garden, nestled in the leaf litter are wood and ceramic mushrooms finished in a grey glaze. She mischievously likes to call them her ‘magic mushrooms’. Bird baths and water bowls attract the local lorikeets and carolling magpies, while sensuous figures — her ‘Juicy Girls’ — discreetly recline amid the lush foliage.
‘The position and siting of the sculptures is very important to me,’ says Gaby. ‘I love the contrasts between low objects and substantial forms in the landscape.’
An artist’s edition of a bronze ‘Daphne’, sits comfortably beside the steps leading to Gaby’s front door and gazes peacefully down at her two avian companions.
‘The original, for Willoughby City Council, is seated on a wooden bench in Willoughby Park among the eucalypts and I love the thought of children climbing up and sitting themselves beside her. Or real birds fluffing their feathers on the bench alongside my bronze doves.’
My own favourite is a writhing, knotted red-bellied ceramic snake, its curves so alive that I felt they were surely the result of Gaby having been accosted by an angry viper in her garden.
‘No,’ she reassured me. ‘It was quite dead when I found it.’ To prove her point, she took me inside her workshop studio and reached onto a shelf to pull out a smaller version of the knotted and intricately entwined reptile held together by the remains of its dried scaly skin and a skeletal spine.
Gaby and her husband, John, moved from Wombarra on the south coast to Pearl Beach in 2018. They brought several of Gaby’s beloved sculptures but had also sold off much of what they couldn’t take with them. The absence of these sculptures, and the new garden have inspired Gaby to create new small and medium sized pieces to exhibit in her delightful bush garden in what must be the most far flung corner of the Pearl Beach community.
Just as the Illawarra and the greater Sydney council areas recognised Gaby’s talent by commissioning public sculptures, we hope her work will come to enliven public spaces around the Central Coast before she lays down her mallet, chisel and drill, and takes up something gentler, like needlepoint or macramé.