Sand, sea and art mix it up again for the 18th annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibition, as Ara Jansen explains.

It’s one of the places where artists have free range to have fun. Welcome to Sculpture by the Sea, the annual art show which takes place on Cottesloe Beach. It welcomes artists from all over the world, the country and our backyard, to create sculptures of all shapes, sizes, colours and materials.  

Local artist and Sculpture by the Sea veteran Norton Flavel

The results are often fun, larger than life, can be thoughtful or make a statement, touch-friendly and allow you to get up close or walk through them. It’s one of the most accessible exhibitions around where people of all ages can talk about the whats and whys of it all – or just love the colour. 

Sculpture by the Sea is one of the city’s largest free public events, where 70 artists from 12 countries will showcase their work, including sculptors from Japan, the Czech Republic, France, Singapore, India, Mexico, Norway and Taiwan. Thirty-two are from Western Australia. 

For local artist and Sculpture by the Sea veteran Norton Flavel, he loves the way people interact with the sculptures scattered across the beach. 

“I love that it’s not a controlled space and is totally open,” he says. “It’s also a totally tactile experience. I love that people are more playful in this space, can be more themselves and take the chance to connect with the work.

“From an artist’s perspective it can be daunting because who can compete with the beach, but that’s also the great and fun challenge. You also have to take into account the weather.”

Flavel says one of the tricks to having a successful work in the beach collection is making a piece which obviously attracts people but also has a more subtle purpose. Most famously, Flavel created a piece called Bulk Carrier, more fondly dubbed the giant goon bag. This year his work blends the figurative and the abstract in a series of brushed aluminium columns with figures moving in and out of the pieces. 

Sculpture by the Sea founding director David Handley loves the event because of the wonderful interaction between the beach, people and sculptures.

“For visitors to the exhibition, as well as those of us who work on the exhibition, it is fascinating to see what artists like Norton Flavel – who does such different artwork – create,” says Handley. “Norton’s creativity is really quite extraordinary, from Bulk Carrier through to his ball and chain, the large metal drop of water in the tree and this new work.

“The outdoor beach setting is where Australians are uninhibited, so this predisposes people to be open to wander the sculptures and think and say what they enjoy and what they might not enjoy. This doesn’t happen in a gallery. Some artists intentionally sit next to their artworks incognito and listen to the comments people make – both positive and negative.” 

Sculpture by the Sea is a free event at Cottesloe Beach and runs from March 4 – 21.