From the outside, Gary Dawson’s home appears to be like every other on the street, its innocuous exterior is misleading, though. Step into the hallway, and an avalanche of mysterious, spooky, and intriguing artefacts are waiting to greet you. Gary’s enthusiasm for his collection is contagious, and every piece has a backstory, whether it’s a machete from Borneo, First World War German field goggles, or a whale rib.
It’s easy to understand where the Bone Idol Skulpture creator finds inspiration. Artefacts from across Asia are more than mere ornaments, “they influence my work. I love India so much it’s what I named my daughter”. Closer to home, Gary was “weaned on” Hammer horror films, “I still watch all those trashy movies now”. He’s immersed himself in historical and horror movie memorabilia, accompanied by a vast array of elaborately decorated skulls.
Watching an indecisive Gary contemplate which sculptures he’s willing to part with gives you a sense that he leaves a segment of himself in each artwork, interwoven like their wisteria branch horns. It is somewhat fitting Gary has found wisteria the most suitable material for emulating nature’s curves, given the tree historically symbolises long life and immortality. While life has left his raw materials, Gary’s preservation mirrors immortality through sculpture by removing skeletons from nature’s recycling processes.
When it comes to sourcing materials, Gary’s quick to establish he doesn’t hurt animals. Though, he doesn’t shy from sharing: “I’ve got every bone you could possibly conceive. The options are endless, almost too much. I’ve got so many ideas, but no idea where to start with them”. Scavenger hunts on dog walks across Gower have yielded copious bones for his greyhound “to chew on”, at least before Gary gets to them.
The contrasting responses of Gary and his dog speak of the animalistic indignity regarding remains. “I see it as a respectful gesture putting things to some use, but there’s plenty who wouldn’t,” Gary remarked. There can be little debate that his sculptures divide opinions, but you must admire how he’s upcycled nature’s perishables to exercise his fantasies through artwork.
In an appropriate setting, his use of wisteria and dentists epoxy putty to imitate natural curves is scintillating. A barnacle laden ‘Rock Squid’ was a sight to behold alongside the shower, its washed turquoise exterior flawlessly imitating materials weathered by coastal erosion. The sculpture is a unique centrepiece, which transformed an otherwise featureless wall into the room’s focus.
While the ‘Rock Squid’ may have been tough to part with, Gary doesn’t hesitate to add: “If I miss it that much, I’ll just make another”. The throwaway comment does, however, speak to his ethos as an artist. Although there’s a sense of connection to his finished artwork, Gary insists “once it is finished, the buzz is gone”.
You’d be surprised, though. The making process can take longer than you’d imagine. Gary only reveals his pursuit of perfection after retrieving a skull resembling a ‘hot rod’. The attention to detail is immaculate, and it ought to be, considering he started working on it in the mid-1990s. “With that piece, I needed to get it absolutely right, and in a situation like that, I’d procrastinate for decades. If I’m not sure I can get it right, I’ll just put it away.
“Every so often, I’ll pick it up and have a little tweak for a couple of hours, then I’ll forget it again for years,” Gary revealed. In particular, this sculpture is a microcosm of Gary’s ideals, he’s an artist whose priority is perfecting his vision, and time is merely an afterthought.