01 Mar How Richard Roxburgh suffered for Joshua Yeldham’s art
In a light-filled corner of his spacious home studio in Sydney’s northern beaches, Joshua Yeldham is carving into a photo of Richard Roxburgh.
Armed with what looks and sounds like a dentist’s drill, he bores into Roxburgh’s face and body. Four photographs of the actor taken by Yeldham’s wife, Jo, sit on an easel, each carved with dots, wispy lines and deeper cuts by the artist.
“I went super nuts at first and then just did less and less,” he says. “Maybe Richard thought I’d do a hell of a lot more but I wanted to respect the energy Jo shot.”
Yeldham’s carved photograph for Spectrum’s cover features a suited Roxburgh half-submerged in water. Fine marks are etched on his body, while the surrounding landscape is decorated with wispy lines.
Roxburgh is the artistic director of next month’s Spectrum Now festival. As guest editor of this week’s special issue, he asked Yeldham – his close mate and northern beaches neighbour – to help create the cover artwork. Yeldham enlisted Jo and together they came up with the idea of photographing Roxburgh at a secluded bay on Pittwater.
“I took him there with his boys a couple of years ago, but he had no idea of the brief until we got there,” Yeldham says. They simply asked Roxburgh to bring two tuxedos, board shorts and reef booties.
Jo Yeldham took photographs at Morning Bay under stormy skies.”Rox was on his side and we had an inflatable thing between his legs,” she says. “He had to breathe through one nostril. It wasn’t the easiest task we gave him. But I love that he seems at ease in the image. He’s actually propping himself up in an awkward way.”
Roxburgh says he was more concerned about the wildlife: “Morning Bay is basically Wilson Parking for stingrays. The place is thick with them.”
Although the shoot ruined his outfit (“Art owes me about $1000 for a slim-fit Calibre suit and a Zegna shirt”), Roxburgh says the portrait is unique and beautiful. “And I don’t very often say that of portraits of myself,” he says. “But all the thought, and the special voodoo of the tandem team relationship of Josh and Jo, has carved out something amazing.”
Roxburgh’s is not the only portrait that Joshua Yeldham has taken to with his armoury of carving devices – spinning power tools, belt sanders and one he proudly calls “my awesome meaty hacker”. He takes the bubble wrap off a large photograph of his six-year-old son Jude, his torso intricately tattooed with what appear to be tribal markings.
Outside, Yeldham dons a pair of plastic goggles to demonstrate his technique on a canvas of a mangrove tree photographed with a smartphone then printed on thick cotton paper. He scratches fine lines and arcs into the surface with a spinning power tool that creates a small cloud of cotton fibres as he drills into the canvas.
Yeldham looks to nature to explain his artistic technique: “It’s just eating in like a termite.”
The result of his labours is striking; glow worms seem to writhe on the canvas as if they have colonised the tree.
“I look into the bark and in there is the language I follow,” he says. “It’s about the tonality and the shadow and the patterning on the tree.”
A frequent finalist in the Wynne Prize for landscape painting, Yeldham will show a number of works at Art15, billed as London’s global art fair, in May. He has also been selected for this year’s $25,000 Redlands Prize, which will be exhibited at the National Art School in Darlinghurst as part of Spectrum Now.
Trees occupy a central place in Yeldham’s practice and in his home at Bayview on the shores of Pittwater. A spotted gum grows through the floor and ceiling of his studio. “I couldn’t justify chopping it down so she lives with me,” he says. “And she drips. I haven’t fully sorted out the rain issue but it still drips and barks and she sways.
“And I say thank you to her for not falling on us because she’s so huge.”
He admits the solid trunk in his work space is a source of bemusement to his neighbours.
“Locals think I’m nuts. The council guy thinks I’m interesting,” he says. “But to me it’s what I’m about … I have a desire to be entwined in nature.”