SCULPTOR CAM CROSSLEY’S creations reveal two of his great passions – the spectacular medium of bronze that he predominantly works with, and the power of the human figure as a vehicle of expression.
Creating life-like finely detailed human figurative bronzes that range in size from one-fifth scale to full-size, Cam works with life models to capture what he calls “the essence of gesture” in his works, some of which will feature this November in the Sunshine Coast’s celebrated annual Sculpture on the Edge Festival.
He has also been commissioned for public sculptural projects on the Sunshine Coast, including the Eternal Flame at Cotton Tree Cenotaph, Maroochydore, as well as private commissions, and is represented by galleries in Queensland and Sydney.
“I just love figurative sculpture,” Cam says. “Sometimes I get a bit more abstract, but I always return to the figure, because that’s what’s important to me, I guess. It’s the first thing we see; we see our mother’s face, we see humans.
“That’s why the human figure’s so difficult to draw, because we know when it’s not right. We might not know why it’s not right, but we know when it’s not quite right, because we’re humans and it’s fundamental to us.”
The transformation of raw material into objects of beauty is something Cam became fascinated with as a boy, while he watched his mother, a potter, working with clay. He and his father stayed up late into the night firing the kilns and as Cam watched the flames leaping about, he was captivated with the process.
“Growing up with that fascination of the transformation of material has never left me,” he says. “All of these things are kind of woven into the same fabric of my life.”
That same fabric happens to include a stellar career as an architect. Cam specialised in designing large public aquariums all over the world, starting with the iconic original Underwater World at Mooloolaba “many, many, years ago”.
Although he had always wanted to paint and sculpt, his art had taken a back seat for a few decades – apart from life drawing, which he has practised for the past 40 years.
It was only about four years ago that Cam decided to sculpt full time, strongly encouraged by his partner of six years, artist Janice Pryde, who he met at life drawing.
“Janice has been a huge inspiration for me to take this on,” says Cam. “She said, ‘What are you waiting for?’
“I just decided I don’t want to die wondering, so I’m going to give it a red-hot go.”
While his two careers may seem worlds apart, there are, however, many parallels to be drawn. Cam compares the architect’s concern with the interaction of humans within built spaces, with the artist’s interest in the interaction of humans with each other and the environment.
“It’s all part and parcel of the same thing, there’s just different ways of expressing it artistically,” he says. “As an architect, you’re designing for humans, and humans have a need for light and air and ventilation – for comfort. So the body for me has always been really fundamental; not just for my architecture practice, but for my artistic practice. Architecture is just about finding ways to solve problems with space and form; art is about trying to communicate an idea – and for me it’s about humanity.
“The body’s our fundamental basis for proportion, for beauty, for elegance, grace; and so much of what we communicate is gestural – it’s better than words, isn’t it?”
The other similarity between the two professions, according to Cam, is that they are both very process driven. He describes the process of making a bronze sculpture as long and laborious, but also “wonderfully fierce and ferocious”. It can take weeks, depending on the size and type.
The process begins with a sculptural work in clay. Cam then makes a silicone mould that captures all the detail, and casts a wax replica of that, before sending it to the foundry where it is coated in a ceramic shell and has the wax burnt out. It is then fired until it has the appearance of a terracotta pot, filled with bronze, and returned to Cam, who sands, finishes, and patinates the sculpture, before finally coating it in wax.
Cam gains much of the inspiration for his work from the natural environment – the beach, to be exact. It’s a place, he believes, that is “as egalitarian as it gets”.
“I love that you can be sitting on the beach and you don’t know if you’re sitting next to a lawyer, or a brickie, or a fashion model, or a politician – we’re all in our togs, playing with the kids, making sandcastles and going for a swim. We’re all humans. I love that about the beach.”
This philosophy is particularly captured in one of Cam’s bronzes, called Nexus – a male figure wading into the ocean and reaching down with fingers outstretched to touch the water.
“That’s about the feeling that you get when you wade into the ocean – the thing that he’s reaching down touching is kind of the spirit of the ocean, the connection with the ocean,” says Cam.
“What I’m into is exploring the connection of humanity with the environment, and each other.”