Regional Artist Profile: George Corke
“I’ve collected a lifetime of beautiful Western Australian recycled timbers and drawn up a long list of ideas for pieces I’d like to create – it would take me 180 years to make all the designs I have in mind!”
George Corke yearned for a career in art and design in the 1960s, a time when ‘having a trade’ was considered more important for men than pursuing the arts. It was after spotting an advertisement in the newspaper that he accepted a carpenter and joiner apprenticeship at age 16 and moved to Morawa.
He was fortunate to work under the tutelage of a German craftsman who inspired and mentored George in all aspects of housebuilding, cabinetry work and furniture building. This foundation led to a career in the furniture and building industry in Perth and South Australia, including running his own building company.
George doesn’t specifically have any formal arts training. However, he dabbled in watercolour painting on days off from his apprenticeship. His passion for the arts never waned and only grew until it was the right time to fully immerse himself – which so happened to be during his retirement!
George Corke and Tall boy with Zip. Image by Susan Corke.
Eight years ago, George made the decision to dedicate his time and energy to honing his craft and creating one-of-a-kind pieces for everyone to enjoy.
My artform is working with the mediums of timber and steel, sometimes on their own, and then combining the two to create art forms into functional art pieces such as furniture, art pieces, through to steel sculpture for public art.
People had been admiring George’s artworks for several years and he didn’t have a dedicated space to showcase his work, so Corkescrew Gallery was born.
“Living in Mount Barker 350 kms from the Perth CBD for a number of years, I, like many artists felt very isolated from the arts, but in recent years we have seen many visitors to the region with many commenting on the hidden talents in the region… giving me the incentive to construct a purpose-built gallery to display and sell my creations.”
The gallery has been built from recycled wood from the original Mount Barker apple cool storage facility. The creative workshop attached to the gallery is housed in the original old packing shed from the early 1900s. It pays homage to George’s appreciation and respect for local timber from the South West and his passion for sustainability and recycling. He also works alongside timber millers to save these precious resources for future generations to respect and enjoy.
Corkescrew Gallery. Image by Andy Dolphin.
“From an early age I began to appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of our Western Australian hard woods, and now after a number of years working with it, my passion is repurposing old timbers (some milled as far back as 1918!) into beautiful art forms.
The first step is the dressing of the old timbers to reveal the amazing colours and grain nature. Then, to design and create an art piece that will do justice to the trees, sometimes complimenting it by adding the beauty of raw steel to it.”
The venue itself is a creative space – part gallery and part workshop. Visitors can watch works in progress from a safe viewing area. George is very fond of chatting to people who visit and is more than happy to answer questions relating to woodworking, blacksmithing or life!
George Corke at work. Image by Andy Dolphin.
George creates pieces with wood using various techniques and materials; however, he is most keen on using hand tools from days gone by.
Blacksmithing became of interest to George in recent years leading to many visits to meet with the Wizard of Fire – Antonio Battistessa in the Swan Valley, who is a master of the craft. George’s passion for artistic blacksmithing was ignited. He now prefers hand forged steel over machined steel and combines it with timber to create his unique pieces.
Bonsai sculpture. Photo by Andy Dolphin.
Some of George’s public sculptures are currently on show around Mount Barker town. His first sculpture was exhibited in Art in the Park which morphed into Art in the Porongurups. It is likened to Sculptures by the Sea and has recently relocated to the Porongurup Ranges. Great Southern artists are invited to display their works in April each year.
Street sculpture. Photo by Susan Corke.
George is also a proud committee member of the Mount Barker Mountains and Murals festival. After a successful event in 2019, the committee was gearing up for an amazing 2020 until COVID-19 hit. International artists would normally paint seven murals in seven days, which unfortunately had to be cancelled.
As this festival is a very important annual tourism event to the community, the committee invited local state artists to be involved in the newly created Mount Barker Painted Door Festival. It came from a spark of an idea from George, having seen this project work so well in South Australia in a different capacity.
The Corkescrew Gallery was chosen for the launch of the event and where the old timber doors were stored. George sourced over 116 doors that were collected by artists to create their original works in late 2020.
The whole community got behind the event with gusto. Artists of all ages, calibers, and postcodes created a piece of art with an old house door as their canvas. A huge variety of mediums were used including paint and ceramics. The finished doors were displayed around Mount Barker in various locations on the lead up to the festival in early 2021.
The painted doors also attracted new visitors to Mount Barker and the community members loved it so much they extended the door exhibition until Easter. Some doors were sold, and 85 doors remain on display in town. Tourist maps were printed to show where the doors are found.
Mousetrap Door and Red Door. Images by Susan Corke.
George has lived in Mount Barker for over 40 years and is honoured to be part of such a supportive and creative community.
“The main impact or influence of living in regional WA would be the coming together of likeminded artists and creatives. In any of the arts, they are happy to share their talents, abilities, and skills to make things happen.
They are not looking for monetary returns, as they do it for the love of painting, acting, or creating. The community really supports any event or artform on offer and gets involved, no matter what it is. It is what makes this town really stand out!”
Currently George is working on a couple of different projects in preparation for the Woodcraft and Woodturners Exhibition 2021 held in Denmark, and the Art in the Porongurups 19th annual sculpture exhibition, both being held over the Easter holidays.
George’s pieces have won awards at Art in the Porongurups and the Denmark Wood Show. He has also exhibited at the Perth Wood Show.
Commissions are not often undertaken by George, as he finds it limits his creativity and ability to explore new designs and forms of his work. His pieces are beginning to be collected by repeat clients, with some waiting to view and possibly purchase his creations. Many works are bought as heirlooms to be passed to future generations to admire.
For more information about George’s art or to visit the Corkescrew Gallery, check out his website or follow him on social media – Facebook and Instagram. To contact George email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0400 621 866.