WHEN Andrew McPherson was a commercial furniture maker his personal benchmark was cookie-cutter symmetry.
This was aimed squarely at the lounge rooms and kitchens of the average buyer and the timber was straight and smooth, with all of the joins hidden and filled.
Now, he has moved from furniture maker to artist, he has turned the process inside out, exposing the joins, and thereby the craftsmanship, of his pieces.
"If I do have a choice, I put everything on the outside rather than hiding it,’’ he says. “It’s a bit about wanting things to be transparent, to be honest in the work."
Andrew grew up surrounded by acres upon acres of timber in the form of mountain ash forest, near Kinglake.
When he left school, he worked for a commercial manufacturer as a furniture maker, and eventually landed a plum gig with Woolstore Furniture, who, at that stage, were based at Healesville and specialised in making pieces out of recycled timber.
"That was probably my grounding experience, and at that stage it was run by these three idealistic guys who brought in 10 semi-loads of jarrah from Western Australia from the wool stores," he says.
"They hired me and they said, ‘It doesn’t matter how long it takes, just do the best job you can’."
Andrew left at 30 to set up his own business, and went as far as felling the trees and drying them himself. "I would take trees that were going to be burnt anyway or marked for clearing, and I would experiment with odd species of natives to see how they would come out in a piece," he says.
"I was fairly idealistic and I didn’t really make any money out of it."
The transition from furniture maker to artist came about seven years ago, when Andrew split with his wife. "My whole world collapsed, everything was up in the air," he says.
"And it wasn’t just the split-up, it was everything: what I was going to do for a job, where I was going to live." Resolving to take a different path, Andrew signed up for a building design course at TAFE.
"I did a term of it, but the only thing I really liked about it was that it had a sketching component," he says." I hadn’t drawn or painted since school, so I went and did a painting class and decided I wanted to be an artist."
Andrew’s next change came in the form of a move to Fish Creek, in South Gippsland, where he set up his gallery and studio, Ride the Wild Goat.
"That was alluding to how my life was at that stage," he says. "Everything was hitting me at once, and in the process of coming here I have had to make some instinctive, fast decisions. So riding that goat became my way of life.
"It has settled down a bit now but I became a bit fond of the saying, so it stuck." These days his studio is a mixture of art works on the walls, including metal work; his furniture and the odd splash of jewellery.
"A lot of the materials are actually given to me or I find it," he says.
"I virtually never draw the art up beforehand and occasionally it morphs in to something that it wasn’t. I just play with things until it feels finished, until it is singing to me. I think I have got to catch up to it. The piece is there and it exists, but I haven’t yet reached it."
His scrap metal pieces are influenced by the work of Aboriginal artist Lorraine Connelly-Northey, who assembles art from recycled materials. He cites, for example, his abstract Water Tank Returned sculpture as a watershed moment in his career. "It took a lot of guts to put it on the wall, it was a big moment for me," he says.
"A year ago I would have wanted to put it in a farm, but for me to be able to say it was valid artwork, just as it stands, it was a step forward. Because it could have so easily been just an old rusty water tank. And so it’s letting go of my instruction; I am used to making things so engineered. It takes time to let go of that instruction."