Roger McKindley - OUTSIDER ART
I grew up in Castlemaine in the 70s and I said I’d never live in Newstead. It seemed so conservative when I was young but life has taught me to never say never. At fifteen I did a gardening apprenticeship at the Castlemaine Botanical Gardens and I didn’t know it then but this was the happiest time of my life.
I didn’t go to art school, I have learnt through travel and observation; I bought a Harley when I was twenty-two and cruised all up the East Coast. I drove an old Valiant to Cape Tribulation and lived in paradise for four months. I learnt bushcraft from a New Guinean; I lived on coconuts and fish and ate like a king. I was told about this man who had been living in the jungle for most of his life. He was ninety-two when I met him and he’d been living off the grid for fifty years. He had no teeth, so he would grind up coconuts before he ate them. I blame him for my art; he’d been collecting things that had washed up on the shore and had a pyramid of thongs, a pyramid of glass balls, a pyramid of sticks, I guess this is what inspired me to make things from found objects.
I eventually sold my car to a hitchhiker and made my way to India. Back then there were only 900 million people. It was so busy I couldn’t cross the road, but it taught me to appreciate what we have here and to see beauty in everything. Castlemaine was like a ghost town after India. Everyone was indoors with their curtains drawn by 5pm. I got a job creating a 17th century style French garden surrounding an old cottage.
I ended up in Newstead after I split up from my partner of twelve years. This house was a bombsite in a warzone, a portal to hell; it was full of rubbish and plastic and glass. There was no running water, only an old water tank out the back, no sink and no stove. I had to dig a hole to go to the toilet. But the house spoke to me and I started to fix it up. I was so run down and had injured my left arm so I worked using only my right arm. I lived on stinging nettles and rabbits and had too much food.
Slowly, people in the area began to recognise me as the guy building sculptures in his back paddock. Neighbours would bring me eggs, olives, and capsicums. I started going to the local pub with other artists and we would get up and tell our stories, which is how the Newstead Art Salon originated.
Today I have a tap and I can run enough power for one light from my car battery. My sculpture garden has featured in ten festivals since I started it nine years ago. People will drop in because they’ve heard about me. I keep a guest book and I have been blown away by some people’s reactions to my work. People from all over the world send me cards and letters thanking me for letting them spend time here. One family has been visiting me in different locations for twenty five years and some of their children are artists now.
I like re- interpreting or breathing new life into something that is unwanted. Sometimes the most worn and unwanted things tell the story of an entire life. I like to use all the broken and unwanted objects and bring them together to create a wholeness. All things cast out as rubbish, I raise up and care for so that other people can come and enjoy them as well. I can go for a walk and dig a hole down the back and pull something out of the ground. I go to tips and scrap yards and people bring me things. The material dictates what I do; when I find something I like to honour it that day, so sometimes I will work in the dark. Then the next day, I like to come to it like I’ve just met it. The biggest decision is where I’m going to place it, because this can affect its energy. My favourite piece is my first one, and the next one I haven’t made yet.
Newstead is no longer conservative; there are a lot of brilliant artists here and in the surrounding areas, such as Russel Petherbridge, Trefor Prest and Sholto Turner.
Roger's work is on display as part of the Castlemaine & District Festival of Gardens until November 6.