Brian Dawson – A Journey in Wood

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Brian Dawson, A Cedar Family

Thirty years of working in wood have not diminished Sydney designer maker Brian Dawson's passion. If anything, his interests have burgeoned. Soon to open, Brian's first solo woodwork exhibition takes in his ‘journey’, moving from furniture and box forms, through to his most recent sculptural creations.

‘Brian Dawson – A Journey in Wood’ runs from February 1–25 at Lane Cove Gallery, Longeville, NSW. We asked Brian a few questions about his travels in wood.


Box in tiger myrtle with figured marri lid

Is this your first solo exhibition? If so, how did it come about?

Yes, it is my first woodwork solo exhibition. I had a solo photographic exhibition in the same gallery (Afghanistan 1970) a few years ago. I know the gallery staff because when I was the chairman of the New South Wales Woodworkers Association we had three exhibitions in that venue over three consecutive years.


Brian Dawson, A Family of Gourds

Do the works shown represent a new direction in your work?

The works do show a new direction in my work. The title of the exhibition indicates an evolution rather than a change in direction. 'From rectilinear to curves to 3D shapes' would summarise the evolution.


Shell, oregon on redgum base

Can you give us a brief description of your woodworking journey to date?

I have been working with wood for 30 years. I was trained at Sturt School for Wood in Mittagong and for three years was the Chair of the NSW Woodworkers Association. Initially, I followed the ‘craftsman’ route by learning artisan skills to produce everyday, practical items such as boxes, chairs, tables, cabinets and the like.

Whilst this was satisfying (and necessary to achieve craft skills) I wanted to move to a more creative space and develop other forms, particularly not rectilinear, and to introduce other materials, such as aluminium nails and perspex.

The organic nature of wood, its colours, densities, growth patterns, smells, textures and its tactile qualities all contributed to my love of the material. The never-ending learning of new techniques, experimentation with different methods and the hands-on approach contributed to my passion.


Dovetail table segment, detail.

What are your main aims when you conceive or start a new piece?

The actual idea usually starts as an image which I sketch on a large pad. I draw various options until I am satisfied and have a pleasing form. Then I dimension to scale and start making.

Almost always, the piece changes as the design matures, and often, when I am not satisfied with the emerging form, I will discard and build anew until I have a result that looks okay to me. Of course, there are many traps and setbacks with the actual making, but this is quite acceptable and quite normal.

I came across the following quote a few years ago and loved its message. I have not been able to find a source: ‘Designing and making and risk taking are all part of the same thing. Creativity is fundamentally a high-risk activity. It demands that we destroy as much as we create. Having to specify things way out ahead is too safe a way of going about it.’

So you can see I am not into much precise pre-planning, more into having a creative idea and developing it on the run. I find this exhilarating and fun.


Huon pine box with perspex lid and painted motifs

What are your preferred techniques? For example – do you favour ‘slow woodworking’ (using hand tools), or expediting processes with power tools and machinery?

I am impatient by nature, always wanting a result, rather than focusing on the process. So, yes I use power tools and machinery wherever I can. All work, of course, is finished (often laboriously) by hand. I am fortunate to have a very well equipped workshop in my home in Sydney so it is easy for me to pop in for short bursts of time or extended periods when under pressure.


Vase in New Guinea rosewood

Can you name the single most influence on your work and the style you are working towards?

Toby Muir Wilson, my teacher at Sturt, has been the most important influence on my work although now that I am making sculptures, I am being influenced by a number of sculptors in Europe.


Textured mango wood board

What are you working on now…and what’s next for Brian Dawson?

I am not working towards anything in particular but am really enjoying creating sweeping curves and organic shapes in three dimensions. I always have a vision of ‘The next one.’

Exhibition: ‘Brian Dawson – A Journey in Wood’
Dates: 1–25 February (Opening night 1 Feb, 6 pm. Artists talk 4 Feb, 1pm)
Venue: Lane Cove Gallery, 164 Longueville Road, Longueville NSW 2066

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