MEET THE LOCALS

Bunbury artist Neil Turner prepares for upcoming exhibition at Sculpture by the Sea 2022

Artist Neil Turner with one of his more recent pieces in his artist studio in Stratham.
Artist Neil Turner with one of his more recent pieces in his artist studio in Stratham.

When Neil Turner was "chonking away" in a poorly lit shed with bad ventilation on a farm in the Wheatbelt he could never imagine how different his life would one day be.

The ex-farmer relocated to Stratham in south west Western Australia 11 years ago from his family-run farm in Corrigin and is now creating artwork to do his bit in protecting the environment.

He said his passion for art began when he started wood turning old stumps he would pick up while plowing the fields.

"I had a friend who wanted a lamp stand, so I made the most awful lamp. I didn't understand timber at all so I used green timber that just split and cracked. It was definitely a throw away job," Mr Turner laughed.

"Shortly after I started exploring bowls and just kept practising. It evolved from there."

Thanks to the support of his wife Sue, Mr Turner began supplying pieces to various art galleries throughout Western Australia, which gave him additional income to his work on the farm.

As he began to get "jaded" with farming, Mr and Mrs Turner relocated to Bunbury with their five children in 1991.

"I read an article about a wood turning course here and was soon after introduced to wood turner Stephen Hughes. He [is believed to be] the first guy in the world to do piercing and turning on hollow forms.

"I remember something just clicked and I thought wow, wood turning can be more than just making bowls. I started copying what he was doing, but I soon realised that I had to develop my own voice and really show what inspired me."

Mr Turner said a big part of his work was about commenting on the condition of the environment.

"I remember when I was on the farm, I didn't like the amount of chemicals that were being used. We were headed down this path of constantly using fungicides and pesticides and I really got quite jaded with it. I can remember spraying nasty chemicals when I was 13. I can still remember the smell."

For his exhibition in Sculpture by the Sea in Cottesloe, Mr Turner will re-create amphoras, ancient, Greek jars that were used for storage and then discarded, similar to the single use plastic of today.

No way when I was chonking away in a poorly lit shed with bad ventilation on a farm in Corrigin, did I think I would one day be doing this.

Artist Neil Turner

Mr Turner said at Monte Testaccio, Rome, there was a 180 foot high hill that was covered in broken amphoras.

"It's essentially a rubbish tip from 600 BC. We have the same problem now, just with plastic.

"It just shows that human habits haven't changed, amphoras were the problem in Roman times, and plastic is the problem now.

"Hopefully the exhibition will stimulate thinking that it's not just a current problem, it's been ongoing for thousands of years. The time to change it is now."

Mr Turner also has two of his pieces on display at the newly opening Koolinup Emergency Centre in Collie.

Using his inspiration of wind, fire and water, the pieces are a reflection of "the soothing influences of water".

Mr Turner has demonstrated his work in Australia, America, Canada, France and New Zealand.

He said he never thought his life would go the way it has.

"It just shows that if you don't like what you're doing with your life, you can change it."