About Ronnie

decorative wood carving melbourneRonnie was born in County Cork, Ireland, in 1970. She moved to England in 1988, and there, assisted by a grant from the Leche Trust, obtained her Higher Diploma and Graduateship in Woodcarving and Gilding at the City and Guilds of London Art School in 1994. She won the coveted William Wheeler Prize for Outstanding Work and was part of a selected group of artisans chosen to work on the five year restoration of Windsor Castle which had been severely damaged by fire. Since then she has worked on a number of commissions in Malaysia, Ireland, England, USA and Australia.

One of Ronnie’s spectacular projects was the design and construction of an altar for a Hindu temple in Belfast. This project was partially sponsored by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, and was seen as a major event not only in the art world, but also in the interfaith community.

Since arriving in Australia, Ronnie has allowed her strict classical training in Gothic, Baroque and Rocco woodcarving has evolved into a more relaxed, freer flowing style evident in her work displayed in the Toyota Community Spirit Exhibition in Port Melbourne.  Ronnie has always believed there would come a time that she “would take what [she] had learned from traditional wood carving and allow it to evolve into sculpture”. Ronnie predominantly works from salvaged timber from trees in the Dandenong Ranges that have blown down or have died a natural death. Her works vary in height to 3.5 meters, and these largest works are those for public spaces.
Earlier in Ronnie’s career as a traditional woodcarver she worked on several large private commissions for some wealthy clients. Grateful for the work, it also saddened her that most of this carving would only be seen and enjoyed by a few, behind closed doors. It was this that inspired and fueled Ronnie’s ambition to begin a new chapter in her life as a carver of large sculptures up to 3.5m.

“I want to create large woodcarvings and for them to be placed in public locations so that they can be enjoyed by everyone, rich and poor alike. Unlike traditional carving where I was restricted to mostly copy carving traditional classical styles, in sculpture I am free to channel from the source of my creativity and in doing so, capture this essence in my work. It is this essence that touches, resonates and uplifts the viewer. I believe this is the true job of an artist” – Ronnie

Ronnie allows an average 30cm free of carving at the base of each sculpture so that they can be installed securely into concrete in public locations.
Unlike classical carving, where it is important to have an unblemished piece of timber, here the individual characteristics of the timber such as knots and cracks become the fundamental features of the work itself. Many of Ronnie’s recent works use slabs with imperfections, with Ronnie believing that “we should work with Mother Nature, rather than making her work for us. That is why I leave the bark on, and work with the cracks and imperfections, and incorporate them in my overall design”.
Ronnie discovered that she could use crystals and rocks to disguise some of the imperfections, which resulted in them enhancing the piece, by adding a new and vibrant energy to her work. And truly working with wood and Mother Nature is what she believes makes carving “inspiring and fun”.

Ronnie says that while her work lends itself to various cultures, it is not religious, and she has evolved a distinctive style that is heavily influenced by her Celtic origins. Celtic crosses, spirals and knot-work meld with angels, wings, crystals, rocks, painted textiles and glass. Feminine energy and the fusion of cultures also play a significant role in Ronnie’s work. Ronnie believes that

“We must stop looking at our differences, and see that we all come from the same source. That is why I’m interested in all religions and cultures and I feel comfortable to incorporate them, their imagery, and their symbolism in my work” – Ronnie

Ronnie uses a variety of symbols in her work, blending different traditions and cultures. She believes symbols are a profound expression of human nature and within the inner world a symbol can represent some deep intuitive wisdom that eludes direct expression. Many civilizations recognized the power of symbolism and used them extensively in their art, religion, myths and rituals. To understand why people tend to be drawn to symbols and develop an interest in them it is necessary to understand the psychological forces at work. One person to whom we owe much of our knowledge of the importance of symbols is Dr. Carl Gustav Jung, the Swiss psychologist and psychotherapist. He explains a symbol generates itself from the unconscious as a spontaneous expression of some deep inner power of which we are unaware, nor can not fully encapsulate into words. As such a symbol becomes in Jung’s words “a perpetual challenge to our thoughts and feelings, that probably explains why a symbolic work is so stimulating, why it grips us so intensely”. Certain kinds of symbols constitute a universal language because their meanings occur in similar forms.

The symbols that go to make up this language are the natural expression of inner psychological forces. Instead of waiting for the unconscious, existing symbols can be used as a focus for meditation eg. In Veronica’s sculptures where she uses interlacing, knot-work on the celtic cross and provides a pathway into the unconscious.
Ronnie used gold leaf gilding for certain sections on some of her carvings. The purpose of gilding is to produce a surface which looks like solid gold, by applying a thin covering of gold one thousandth of an inch thick onto a prepared surface. The look of gold is achieved without the expense, weight or working difficulties of using solid gold. The art of gilding has changed little since Antiquity. The Egyptians applied beaten gold onto wooden surfaces to fulfill this criterion: a finished object that looked like solid gold.
Ronnie always believed that there would come a time that “I would take what I had learned from traditional wood carving and allow it to evolve into sculpture”. Her up and coming show, “Aisling Gheal” (meaning ‘Bright Dream’), represents this change. Ronnie predominately works from salvaged timber from the Dandenong Ranges and her works vary in height to 3.5 metres.
‘Faceless Angel’, is the first of Ronnie’s wood carved sculptures where the work has evolved through the natural characteristics of the timber. Unlike classical carving where it is important to have an unblemished piece of timber, here the individual characteristics of the timber such as knots and cracks become the fundamental features of the work itself. This works also signifies the incorporation of crystals into Ronnie’s work for the first time.
Since the creation of ‘Faceless Angel’, many of Ronnie’s recent works use slabs of wood that have imperfections.

“I believe that we should work with Mother Nature, rather than making her work for us, that is why I leave the bark on and I work with knots, cracks and imperfections and incorporate them in my overall design” – Ronnie

This is an ongoing carving class for beginners and more advanced students, or those that would like to take up carving more seriously. Beginners will be introduced to the classical 2D traditional acanthus leaf design. Each student will be guided step by step and introduced to all the fundamentals of carving that will enable one to get started. Sharpening skills, care and maintenance of carving chisels, tool choices, transferring designs onto timber, the correct sequence of steps required to produce any 2D  or 3D design onto timber, tool control and how to apply a basic oil finish.
For those that are of a more advanced level, Ronnie has a number of more challenging projects. For example a project for intermediate students of a rosette of flowers based on ‘Grinling Gibbons’ one of the great  master carvers of 17th century . Who is without doubt one of the finest and most famous carvers of all time. Students may also bring along their own carving projects.

Ronnie attracts a wide and varied  group of students, from beginners to advanced carvers of all ages and of many professions. Cabinet makers, furniture makers and designers,  antiquity restorers  and conservationist, artists, art college students and hobbyists.

Class details

Location:Melbourne Guild of Fine Woodworking
14 cottage St, Blackburn, Melbourne
When: Thursday – 7.00pm to 9.30pm
Duration: 9 classes per term
Contact: Ronnie Sexton
Mob: 0434 719 205
Email: ronnie@woodhengecarvings.com