For the last decade, sculptor Sam Jinks has set up shop in a neat, modern warehouse just off Sydney Road in a rather featureless pocket of Melbourne’s north. “I always had this romantic view of having a beautiful rustic warehouse,” says Jinks, but “it’s been a great sort of tool”. What the workspace lacks in winsomeness it makes up for with practicality. With the dust extractor off it’s unexpectedly quiet – the artist lived in fear that a panel beater would take the adjacent warehouse but he finds himself in between two heritage archaeologists instead. “I’ve always had mixed feelings about Coburg, but I’ve been here so long now that it’s kind of changed and I’m enjoying the change.” Buying this warehouse, says Jinks, was a considerable investment “in this area and in myself as well.”
Jinks pours green tea and we head upstairs to the carpeted showroom and office but he says, “Historically, I was just using it to play computer games.” A lone eucalypt growing out of the bitumen outside brushes against the window as we talk. When this space is clean, Jinks uses it to take photographs of his works and do some drawing and paperwork, “which seems endless.”
Back downstairs there is a calm industriousness to his set-up. Maquettes of figures lay scattered on surfaces. A bronze work of a man in a loin cloth, in a kind of horizontal fall and mirrored by his double, is located on the floor. Jinks’ assistant is working on a mould of wings cast from a sea eagle. The wings will be gilded.
Jinks’ sculptures are often diminutive versions of humans, immaculately constructed from silicon, complete with human hair. One sculpture featured hair collected over years of haircuts from his son. It’s taken him years of trial and error to get this level of refinement in his pieces. “When I started it was very elusive and difficult. There was no one who could say, ‘This is how you do it.’ There was no one at all. I started out using bathroom sealant.” Jinks got his start in commercial art and advertising before moving into film props and then art. “I moved very quickly, that was a quick transition.
“ I wouldn’t even consider myself a great sculptor but there is something weird about my sculpture that I like. It’s not the accuracy or anything like that, there’s a fineness to it, rather, it creates an atmosphere that I try to have.”
People find comfort in his work. There’s universality in its themes – old age, death, and pain – Jinks confronts these while alluding to the sublime works of the Western canon. Take for example, The Hanging Man, (2007). Though the man is mounted from under his arms, his posture and the realism devoid of superfluous detail recalls Diego Velázquez’s Christ Crucified (1632). With their heads bowed to the right, the works are sombre and meditative, not grim.
As a younger man, Jinks says that he used to “go straight for the emotion” and “dwell in that area.” His work was looking at significant, often difficult life events, “but I sometimes felt like I wasn’t solving any problem there, just stating a fact, a ‘isn’t this unfortunate’ kind of statement.”
Religion has inspired some of the masterpieces of art and architecture; Jink’s practice taps into some of that motivation without creating necessarily, “a religious piece of artwork but something a little bit more universal, secular, for everybody.”
It brings to mind, writer and popular philosopher Alain de Botton’s 2012 book Religion for Atheists. Botton speaks about accessing “aspects around religious life that may be disconnected from belief that nevertheless have great validity and resonance for people outside of faith today.”
The road to creating something symbolic and transcendent involves, “dancing on this very fine line of potential kitschiness” and greatness, says Jinks. Another problem to navigate says Jinks, is reacquainting himself with the initial vision which can slip by the way side during the technical process of construction.
“So now we have the wings you saw downstairs.” These are part of a commission Jinks is currently working on for the Hellenic Museum in Melbourne in partnership with the Benaki Museum in Athens. They will rest on the shoulders of Iris, who in Greek mythology was a messenger of the gods and the personification of the rainbow. It’s an installation work that will consist of a large reflective pool of water running the length of the room; the winged figure of Iris will be kneeling at the river Styx, a borderland between Earth and the Underworld. Iris’s face will be viewed in its reflection in the pool. Jinks pitched the idea though when he approached the drawing board, “I thought, well actually that’s going to be really hard.”
The sticking point was the wings – Jinks wanted a lot of gold for the wings that would involve electroplating them. “It was unrealistic because of the size, each wing is about two metres. There was nowhere in Australia and potentially, in the world outside of somewhere like NASA that could execute something like that.” Gold leaf was the alternative. But first he had to search for wings to base his sculpture on – a pair turned up in Lithuania but they were too small. “Then I found a gentleman in Sydney who happened to have two huge sea eagle wings in his pool room.” “They appeared,” says Jinks, “almost magically.”
This article was originally published in the September/October print issue of Art Guide Australia.