Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - Up Front - WORDS TIM MARTAIN PHO­TOG­RA­PHY SAM ROSE­WARNE

Steve Wood­bury’s great com­bi­na­tion of cal­lig­ra­phy and gun­pow­der

G iven its pri­mary use, gun­pow­der seems an un­likely sub­stance for cre­at­ing some­thing. But for Ho­bart artist Steve Wood­bury, 49, it is this du­al­ity he loves about mak­ing “gun­pow­der art”.

“Gun­pow­der was ini­tially in­vented to be used as a medicine, but now it is bet­ter known for its de­struc­tive qual­ity,” he says. “So now I am us­ing that qual­ity for cre­at­ing some­thing new. I cre­ate the de­struc­tion that cre­ates the cre­ation.”

Wood­bury paints gun­pow­der paste onto pa­per, can­vas or poly­styrene and ig­nites it, the ex­plo­sion sear­ing the pat­tern into the sub­strate. Dif­fer­ent com­pounds cre­ate dif­fer­ent colours, and var­i­ous ef­fects are achieved. The care­ful ap­pli­ca­tion of pres­sure as the pow­der burns en­sures it ig­nites and con­sumes as in­tended.

Wood­bury con­fesses to hav­ing had a fas­ci­na­tion with gun­pow­der as a pri­mary-school-aged kid, when he took it out of fire­works to ex­per­i­ment. Later, hav­ing tried to be an engi­neer, he re­turned to art, mostly paint­ing and draw­ing.

Wood­bury devel­oped an interest in an­cient cal­lig­ra­phy and was fas­ci­nated by the art form’s ori­gins as some­thing mys­ti­cal be­fore becoming a method of in­for­ma­tion trans­fer, and later a dec­o­ra­tive art in its own right.

By combining his love of cal­lig­ra­phy with his affin­ity for gun­pow­der, he came up with a new script art form.

“Cal­lig­ra­phy used to be the main way of record­ing in­for­ma­tion and pass­ing it along, and the mod­ern equiv­a­lent is the Qw­erty key­board,” he says. “So I ref­er­enced the Chi­nese ori­gins of cal­lig­ra­phy by tak­ing pas­sages from Sun Tzu’s Art of War, then pro­ject­ing a mod­ern key­board onto a wall and trac­ing the move­ment of my fin­ger over the let­ters as I ‘typed’ out the words.” The re­sult­ing squig­gles are what Wood­bury calls QW­ERTY Lines, ab­stract shapes that rep­re­sent the act of typ­ing a word.

He then painted the squig­gles onto var­i­ous sub­strates to be seared into a per­ma­nent im­age with gun­pow­der.

“I pre­fer do­ing ab­stract work,” he says. “If I paint a tree, it’s al­ways a tree. But for me, the art is the thing you can’t ex­plain. There is no right or wrong way to in­ter­pret my work.”

Of course, when you use some­thing like gun­pow­der, get­ting the pro­por­tions just right is vi­tal. “You’d think the flames and the ex­plo­sion would de­stroy some­thing like pa­per, but if you get all the con­di­tions just right, the pa­per lives through it,” he says. “I had a lot of prob­lems in the very be­gin­ning, though. Like fire, gun­pow­der has a good and a bad side. It took a lot of prac­tice to get it right.”

The Big Bang, gun­pow­der works by Steve Wood­bury, is on show at the Henry Jones Art Hotel in the lobby, atrium and Pack­ing Room un­til early Novem­ber

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