Meet The Artist: Jason Wooldridge

Meet The Artist: Jason Wooldridge

As featured in the July edition of Esperance Tide.

Author: Esperance Tide
Published: July 08, 2021

Jason Wooldridge

Jason Wooldridge considers himself a ‘maker’ – “A much less pretentious title than artist,” he says – and is perhaps best known for the Whale Tail at James Street, a collaboration with local glass artist Cindy Poole. However, most of his work is on a much smaller scale, forged from pieces of scrap steel and recycled timber to make animals, birds, ships and the occasional figure.

Firstly, tell us what you create! 

I hate calling myself an artist, I think that it’s such a loose term. It’s too easy to call yourself an artist. So, I’ll opt out of that label. I’m a maker, that’s a much less pretentious title. I make sculptures from steel (mostly scrap) and timber (mostly found or recycled). This is not really because of any environmental intentions, but because I like the effects that weather and time take on these materials. I forge and weld these pieces together to make animals, birds, ships and the occasional figure.

How did you fall into the world of sculpting? 

I left school back in 1992 and went straight to Art School in London, then onto uni to study Graphic Design and Illustration. I saw it through to the end even though my heart was not in it. With hindsight I wish I’d studied Fine Art or Sculpture but for my hard working and practical parents, these things had no real prospects. Much of my work at uni was unconventional and I created a lot of ‘assemblage’. That is art that made by assembling different random found objects. I loved old stuff and found ’things’ to be infinitely more interesting and beautiful than anything I could paint or draw, so collecting them and making art out of them was so much fun. London was full of flea markets and car boot sales, and I could get hold of so many amazing bits of junk. The need to make money and make a way in the world became more important than making sculptural follies, so I eventually went back to uni and became an art teacher. Eventually re-training as a Design and Technology teacher and moving to Australia, I became a full-time Design and Technology teacher at Esperance Senior High School. I no longer had access to mountains of cool antique junk but what I did have was a skip full of steel offcuts of all shapes and sizes, and a welder.

How has your style changed over the years? 

I just need to create stuff. Making sculptures just fulfils a need to make stuff. If I couldn’t sculpt, I’d just find something else to make. Having said that, people think that making ‘art’ must be a relaxing, pleasurable process; it’s not, it’s a struggle. It’s daunting to start fresh, then it’s a struggle to a point where you know it’s going to work out, then a joyful few hours until you finish. I guess my style has changed depending on what I’m making things out of, but I’m just interested in proportion, line and gesture. The style has just looked after itself. It used to be something I worried about when I was a lot younger; ’trying’ to develop a style always ends up in creating work that is contrived. It’s best to just let it evolve on its own, so I haven’t really analysed what my style is. I just make things that I think are beautiful. I used to draw every day and now I no longer do that. Instead, my sculptures are like 3-dimensional drawings. The pieces of steel that I use are like different gestural marks, and I often spend a long time finding the right piece that feels right. 

Jason Wooldridge

In collaboration with Cindy Poole, you created the iconic Whale Tail at the James Street Jetty. What was the inspiration behind this piece? 

The ‘Whale Tail’ was an interesting chapter in my artistic career. Jobs like that are set up almost like a competition – you throw in an expression of interest, you might get shortlisted and then you have to create a fully costed proposal. Cindy and I made a pretty good team. She had drive and good organisational skills, and I had the design skill. We had worked previously together as I had re-worked some designs for the Esperance Primary School Seahorse for Cindy Poole and Phil Shelton a few years prior. My background in illustration meant that I was used to working to a brief and I also had a reasonable understating of engineering and working with both steel and wood. I just tried to tick as many boxes for our client as I could. I am proud of what we created and like seeing people getting their photos with it. I think the whole process took about 18 months. Although there was some hands on building with the Whale Tail, the large sweeping curves were rolled in Perth and the structural steelwork was done by Jatek Engineering, so for me this was much more of a design and project management exercise than a hands on sculptural one. I have worked on some other public art projects, but my heart really lies in making small pieces that are borne from an obsession with a particular thing, creature, gesture or feeling.

A lot of your work has a marine theme. Is this simply because you live on the coast, or do you have a lifelong love of all things in and on the ocean? 

Birds, whales and ships are major themes in my work. Why birds? I’m not entirely sure, my father loved birds when I was a kid and encouraged my fascination by always showing me birds and other wildlife that you would otherwise miss or overlook. I used to love copying the illustrations from the big, beautiful bird books he had. We have such beautiful and varied bird life in Esperance. The fascination with whales and ships is probably helped along by our proximity to the ocean but also a love for history and tradition.

You collaborated with an extremely talented group of local artists for the exhibition Elements ed. III last summer. Can we expect to see something similar in the near future? 

The Elements exhibitions have been fun and started out with an intention to find top quality local artists working in different disciplines. They have always been great exhibitions and well received by locals and visitors. I’m going to have a rest from that for now, but you never know what the future holds. I might eventually have a solo show, but group shows have so much more depth. There’s something for everyone.

When you’re not creating, what can we find you doing? 

Fixing things at home mostly.

Lastly, tell us where we can find your work! 

You can find me on Instagram and Facebook as Esperance Sculpture Works. My wife hates that I don’t use my name, but I much prefer to be incognito. I’m not trying to be famous. I want to be a best kept secret.