Mikaela Castledine in red chair, 2015. Image courtesy of the artist.Mikaela Castledine: Life in the making

 Words by June Moorhouse

"Sculpture by the Sea has made me a sculptor," says Mikaela Castledine. In 2013 her first major crocheted sculpture Tokyo Crows, took out the coveted travel scholarship. The following year her rhinoceros, crocheted out of 15km of black plastic raffia, roamed Cottesloe and Tamarama beaches attracting attention in both the east and west coast editions of the annual sculpture blockbuster. The encouragement, together with her own pleasure in the making, spurred her on.
This year she took out Cottesloe’s Sculpture Inside prize for a cluster of exquisite miniature stupas (below left), replicated in a larger form outside where they nestled into the dune vegetation. Stupas are Buddhist structures built to commemorate a spiritually significant event or person. They lodged in Mikaela’s thinking while she was tracing her Anglo-Burmese heritage in Myanmar using the Sculpture by the Sea travel scholarship. Soon she was exploring that resonance, crocheting thick coloured cord in three hour arm-busting bursts to fit over dome-shaped galvanized steel armatures.

Stupas are often built to signifiy the maker’s intention and this sat well with Mikaela. “I make art to resolve things, to understand the world,” she says, and there was much to process after a particularly intense few years.

Mikaela Castledine, Big Intention, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist.Her mother, artist Valerie McDonald who is the lesser-known sibling of Cedric Baxter, has been living with Alzheimer’s disease for many years. Mikaela had spent time with her every day, supporting her father’s dedicated care in their family home near to where she lives. Tellingly, the black rhino (below), an early sculptural project, emanated from making done across a taxing year of care that included daily visits to Val during a period in hospital. “During the making I felt very positive about him (the rhino) but once it was done I could see that I’d produced this enormous black shape out of the incredible distress of that year,” she says. Last year, with her mother settled into good care and her father more relaxed, there was a gentler energy at work and it shines through these latest, meditative constructions.

Talk of family is not off-topic. Woven into all of Mikaela’s work are the relationships and loves that sustain her, informing and supporting the creative development of each piece that flows from her constant making.

And beyond the artifacts themselves, living in and nurturing a creative environment is a given for Mikaela. Growing up with the influence of her artist mother, and her father Hugh, from whom she learnt to crochet, use a lathe, weld and generally trust that she could work out how to tackle most manual tasks, her creating has been a way of life. When her father handcrafted spinning wheels for the burgeoning craft market of the 70s, Mikaela would demonstrate their use at weekend markets. She ticks off the diverse creative endeavours of siblings, offspring and friends. There is a sense that everyone drawn into her orbit is a potential collaborator in and recipient of Mikaela’s creative energies.
This integration of art in her everyday life is evident in the sculpture and in the collage that has been the cornerstone of her exhibiting history. There is something unambiguous about her work; you don’t need an understanding of Burmese history or architecture to appreciate and be affected by the stupas. This honest, process-driven quality was clearly connecting with visitors to Sculpture by the Sea on the glorious Sunday morning I was there. “This is my favourite!” a young boy exclaimed to his family, and, “I would LOVE one of those in my garden to look at every day,” said another viewer.

Mikaela Castledine, Gift of the Rhinocerous, 2015. Photographer: Stephen Castledine.

June Moorhouse has a long history of working in the arts in WA in senior management and as a consultant to small to medium arts organisations. She is the Editor of Artsource’s online magazine.