EVERY SCULPTOR who works in stone or marble dreams of visiting Italy’s renowned Carrara. That dream has now come true for talented Hinterland stone sculptor, Hew Chee Fong who is this year’s recipient of the Noosa Stone Sculpture Bequest.

The Bequest is a national biennial award administered by Sunshine Coast Council and generously funded by an anonymous donor.

The bequest will send Fong to Carrara, on the north western coast of Italy at the end of the year for a two- month workshop residency in the renowned Studio Corsanini.

Fong talked to HT Editor, Michael Berry at his acreage hilltop studio retreat near Peachester.

“I had always known since high school that I would express myself through my hands. I knew it meant art school but I wasn’t sure what genre I would take to. Eventually, I turned towards sculpture and that’s where I have found my niche.”

Born in Malaysia , Fong immigrated to Australia in the 80‘s and now lives on a stunning hillside property with his partner and four children. The approach to his massive studio below their home reveals huge natural rocks and slabs of stone standing abstractly against a breathtaking landscape that looks towards Moreton Bay.

Fong is a dedicated sculptor whose works have a respected place in the ranks of public art. But it is public art that funds his private practice and gives him the leisure to indulge delightful flights of fancy in stone and found objects.

“I know that stone is my passion. I love the medium and I have always worked with stone. It must be saying something to me. I suppose I would describe myself as an intuitive sculptor because I don’t always start out with a clear-cut concept.”

The two month residential stay in Carrara will be a challenge for Fong who until now has predominantly worked in granites and basalt, “ it will be interesting to learn the techniques associated with marble carving” He is an artist, who works, not so much from detailed 3D drawings but from a mental image which he refines as he progresses.

The bequest has given him the theme of Life’s Emotions which coincides with the way he approaches his material.

I think stone elicits such strong emotional responses,” he says, “and implies all things of an enduring nature – stability, dependability, both timelessness and the passage of time.

“While I am in Carrara I hope to choose a piece from the studios or go to other studios or the quarry, and I will know it when I see it. I have two months. It isn’t long particularly as I will be tempted to race off to Florence or to Rome,” he laughs.

Fong is quick to downplay the glamorous image of the successful artist.”

“I think sculptors are essentially plodders … we are the lumberjacks of the art world,” he adds with more laughter. “It’s very physical work and you have to treat it as a 9-5 job. You’re not inspired every day of course, but when you are, you can work solidly for days and family life is put on hold.

But I love doing what I am doing,so it does not seem like work, just another challenge! If I stay away from it too long, I miss the smell of cutting stone, and just getting dirty.”

There are flashes of whimsy about Fong’s recent pieces, like the combination of an old Bakelite phone hand piece with a stone base, or a kitchen whisk set into stone, and his packed studio reflects his quirkiness with objects like sewing machines, kitchen appliances, cutlery and old carpenters’ tools. While completed works may incorporate everyday objects, Fong prefers not to label his work, wanting the audience to decide a theme or subject. “Its a new direction in my work that I’m exploring to see If I can successfully combine the now defunct objects from the past with the natural stone?”

“I do like the abstract because I think it gives the audience room to move. They can fill in the gaps.”

Fong has chosen not to be represented by a single private gallery, mainly because his work often requires more space than a private gallery can provide. However, he does exhibit in public galleries such as Redcliffe Regional Art Gallery, University of the Sunshine Coast Gallery, and Noosa Regional Gallery and his sculptures have been acquired for public collections.

Fong is philosophical about a lucrative career in stone, “With the arts, it’s always feast or famine, but you always budget for bad times ahead.” He certainly regards the Noosa Bequest as one of the good times providing a stimulating two months in Italy with his partner Loretta. He will bring the sculpted piece back to his studio if it needs finishing, then it will be installed in the Noosa Botanical Gardens.

“It’s going to be a fantastic opportunity to soak up the stone culture with all like-minded people. We are very fortunate on the Sunshine Coast to have a very generous patron to be donating funds for this bequest—tailored for all stone sculptors. In years to come this unique Botanic Gardens will be filled with different interpretations of the theme bound by the exclusive use of Carrara marble.

“Sculpture and public art in particular allows me to play around with bigger stones and more importantly, affords me the luxury/opportunity to express and explore ideas on a larger scale without having to worry about budgets. It’s wonderful,” adds this highly accomplished artist.

More about Fong and his work can be found on his blog http://hewcheefong.blogspot.com/