Pierre Capponi. Image: Geoff VivianLife changing learning

Pierre Capponi by Geoff Vivian
Pierre Capponi is eyeing off a stack of ornate pressed tin sheets that once lined a room in an old house. The century-old building material is the main sculptural medium he uses to create life-sized figurative works that evoke Goldfields ghost towns, rural rubbish tips and desiccated mammals you sometimes find on dusty outback roadsides.

In his early teens he migrated here from Marseilles with his family, and pressed tin features in his earliest Australian memories.

“We lived in Smith Street in Highgate,” he says. “My father was reading the racing form guide one morning and there was a shadow of him on the pressed tin wall. I always thought that was a beautiful moment.

“There’s no ‘status’ to [pressed tin], it’s found throughout Australia. It evokes memories. It talks about domestica, it talks about the history of Australia."

Pierre Capponi, Here we go again (detail), 2012. Fluted mini orb, pressed tin, old plant stand, wood, piano wire, tar, rivets, 60cm w x 30cm d x 100cm h. Image: Midland Photographers"I just have to look at it and it speaks to me. It could have been a witness to lovemaking or murder or anything, you know? All of those things!”

Pierre has made a living from his art since he graduated with an Advanced Diploma Fine Art from Central Metropolitan College of TAFE in 2006. He enrolled at age 50 and studied sculpture with Tony Jones.

“Tony Jones changed my life,” he says. “If it wasn’t for Tony I wouldn’t be anywhere. Tony Jones taught me what art is: how to read art, how to get the most out of art. Tony, being so successful, gave me more incentive and I believed in what he told me.

“I wasn’t really clued up on art. We’d been on a camp the first year up in Cue for a sculpture week, and I went to the rubbish tip and found a piece of rusty pressed tin. I did a little work of a man balancing on a wire and Tony seemed to like it.

“Look, I thought art was painting. But I was influenced by what people said to me, especially Tony.

“Every lecturer there expands your knowledge, and puts you in a direction where you become enthusiastic about the medium you are using, rather than wasting your time on the peripheral stuff. The technicians are very helpful, they’ve got time to spend time with individual students.

“There was only about another three mature aged (students) there and I thought I’d be out of place. But I was accepted by all students, all lecturers, they treated me with respect but still had a laugh, you know, and they almost became like a little family to me. “

Pierre now has several successful exhibitions and public art projects behind him. Besides his studio practice he teaches gifted and talented Kalamunda High School students on Saturdays.

He has just scored an $85,000 public art commission for the Northam Senior High School with his friend Nic Compton. They are standing in a paddock on a stinking hot day, supervising a 20-tonne crane unloading some massive granite blocks. Soon they will be carving them with diamond-bladed chainsaws.

Geoff Vivian, a former studio artist, is a freelance writer and photojournalist who has also spent more than a decade working in community development for local councils and as the manager of the Aboriginal radio station at Halls Creek.

This article featured in the 2013 Artsource Autumn Newsletter.