A son of the beach

Michaels'' journey into art felt like a light had been switched on within him.

By Hollie Harris

This is story of a journeyman who was born in the summer of 63′ in old Sydney town.
Growing up before the computer era, Marcus Beach artist Michael Wootton was given the gift of being able to use his hands to fix and create things from a very young age.
“I grew up in a time when there was only two television stations to watch, so being creative was my outlet. Both my grandfathers had an initial impact on me as they had individual skills which they had passed on to me. One in metalworking and the other as a woodworker,” Michael says.
“I could either swing a hammer or sharpen a cold chisel before I had entered primary school. I was probably a bit of a pest and under their feet while they worked, but I just wanted to get amongst it and have a go in whatever it was they were making.”
As a young lad, his holidays were spent building paddlepop and matchstick stick houses and intricate timber bird cages or getting into some heavy-duty alchemy pouring molten metals.
Michael attended Sunday school each week, as you did in those days, and helped his mum cook or make lollies and treats for church fetes. He helped his grandmother make flower arrangements for the church alter before Sunday service – life was different back then.
His creative journey was heavily influenced by his parents. During the late 60’s and early 70’s, his mother worked as a dressmaking at a French boutique and Michael would watch her cutting and stitching fabrics and gowns most nights.
“One day the penny dropped and I asked if she could teach me to sew. She taught me how to cut out patterns, through to sewing on a machine and before long I was making my own creations.
“Later in life, I would make board shorts and supply a mate’s surf shop at Bondi. Some days, I would make a big bag of board shorts and just sit at the beach selling them or trading for stuff with my mates. I used to prefer trading as the money side of things has never really been of interest. I personally get far more satisfaction in gifting to people, than any financial rewards. There’s just something about money and business that rubs me up the wrong way,” Michael says.
In earlier days, his father also gave him many skills relating to fixing and building things.
“At the time I hated most of it as he always had a job for me to do repairing something around the house. He taught me how to use every tool imaginable to mankind.
“I was taught how to make anything out of anything. I still hadn’t got out of primary school at that stage either!”
Michael never considered himself academically minded during school and counted the days until it was over. His parents insisted on him getting a job if he was to leave and he eventually completed a trade certification to become a plumber.
“I never really enjoyed doing plumbing, even though my uncle entrenched and honed my skills of being a tradesman. My father always said to me – “But think of the money!”, but there is not much else about plumbing to be liked. Money wasn’t enough.
“I then signed up for more study and directed my focus on another passion of mine which was horticulture. Back for more study and before I knew it; I was a certified horticulturist.”
Michaels partner was pregnant at that stage and he was waiting to get the phone call that the baby was coming. As it often does, life had other plans and the call came, but it was news of the tragic loss of his father.
“It was thirteen days before my first child was born. I lost a father a became a father in less than a two-week period.
“It blew my mind and some-how changed my psyche’ at the time. I guess there is never a good time to lose a loved one, but looking back on things now, the birth of my first son was a gift from the gods which helped me get through such a difficult time.”
That same year, Michael was involved in a motorcycle accident.
This began several years of rehab and pain management for three ruptured discs in his lower spine. He was taught to use a stress ball in the palm of his hand to focus the pain away from his injuries.
“I didn’t have a ball as such, but I had a lump of clay which I used as a ball. Before long, I became bored squeezing the clay ball as my creative juices were bursting at the seams.
“I then started shaping these balls of clay into small figurative female forms. All of a sudden, it felt like a light had been switched on within me. I realised that I could begin a new form of creation.
“I read as much info that was available to me at the time and became self-taught in the field of ceramics. Everything from hand building domestic wares to sculpting “Goddess of Venus” through to kiln firing techniques. A new passion was now on the horizon.”
This sent Michael in a whole new direction and that direction was Noosa. Moving to a funky beach house in Marcus Beach, he turned a old double garage into a slick artist studio decked out with a potter’s wheel, kiln and all the paraphernalia involved with being a ceramic sculptor.
“I am very fortunate to have such a great work space, surrounded by the beautiful Noosa National Park and earshot of the breaking surf.
He stumbled upon the Cooroy Butter factory and a small potters studio which got his attention. He was convinced by the artists to do some formal training as he had been self-taught for the last twelve years.
“I under took more study and received an advanced diploma of ceramics. This took my adult education up to twelve years of study – not bad for someone leaving school at the age of sixteen to get away from study!”
Michaels artwork is heavily influenced by the sea which surrounds him and has evolved into a spiritual dimension.
“Being born under the sign of Aquarius, my genetic code is to be in, on or around the ocean as much as possible. The beach is also where I gather much of my inspiration creatively and having the added bonus of scoring organic materials that have been washed ashore or as I would prefer to coin the phrase as “Gods Droppings” whilst beach combing and walking the hound each day. I enjoy mixing and matching these “Gods droppings” as a form of multimedia that compliments my ceramics as they have already lived a life and have an inner spiritual context and silent story to tell.”
Also influenced by his mother, who cared for the homeless and became a community minister who was awarded the Order of Australia medal for her unwavering service, Michael had always possessed a strong spiritual connection.
“My mother also received the Bicentennial Australia medal. I’m so very proud of her – she is my very own spiritual leader.
“My latest body of work for this exhibition will be on a spiritual level. I have been focused on ceremonial vessels, such as urn’s or what I would prefer to coin the phrase – “Time capsules” or “Artisan vessels for the afterlife”
“These “Time capsules” can be used to store memoirs such as love letters, photos, jewellery, medals, personal trinkets or funerary purposes. They are predominantly created using assorted glazed stoneware clay and adorned in “Gods droppings”. They are designed to stand alone or compliment one’s décor.”
“I will showcase my recent body of work at The Cooroy Butter Factory Arts Centre with my fellow Marcus Beach Artisans, consisting of Lee Harrison, Jude Tulloch, Kristine Cameron and Julie Hemsley at our exhibition, Expressions.”
And so, the story of this journeyman continues…
*Expressions opens on Friday 6th April at 6pm at 11a Maple street, Cooroy and continues until Tuesday 8th May from Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 3pm.

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