West Footscray sculptor and furniture designer Jos Van Hulsen tells Benjamin Millar he gets a real buzz seeing faces light up as they watch his famous kinetic Christmas windows.
What is your connection with West Footscray?
We moved to West Footscray in 1996 – I can’t believe we have been here for 20 years. We moved from Richmond where we had first set up our business, Post Industrial Design. Like a lot of people, we sort of ended up here by default really. As soon as we arrived, we knew we’d found ‘our place’. We wouldn’t move for quids, we love everything about the west.
What do you love most about the area?
I love the sense of community here, it is like nothing I have experienced in Melbourne. The west is old-school – you say g’day to people you pass on the street, you know your neighbours and help each other out when you are in a fix.
Footscray has so much diversity in terms of culture and food, you can get the best meal for almost cheaper than cooking it yourself. I love the grungy side of Footscray too. It is such a melting pot of people, but somehow it seems to work.
People over here seem to embrace difference – it is such a rare and lovely thing. I don’t think I would change anything really – in fact if I had any power it would be to slow down the change. The area is going through such change that I hope it still finds room to embrace the old.
What are your favourite local places?
I guess I am a bit of a loner and love walking around the less worn paths. I often take my dog Brandy for walks under the West Gate Bridge, explore old abandoned factories or walk along the creek in Sunshine. I love fossicking around railway lines and discovering treasures, which I use in my sculptures. My wife Mary is always complaining: “Can’t we for once just walk along an easy path”.
Often on our adventure walks, we get stuck and have to slide down a big ravine to get back home. The kids always love the adventure of it, but Mary is less sure.
I am also a big skater, so I spend a bit of time at the Newport skate park or cruising the streets.
How and why did you become involved in furniture and sculptural design?
I initially started studying industrial design, but soon knew it was not for me. I transferred over to sculpture and felt like I had found my thing. My work is inspired by old industrial objects. Coming from Holland where everything was recycled, I became obsessed with reusing discarded industrial pieces. It always struck me as strange that people could discard objects of such beauty.
We set up our first shop in Richmond in 1995 and I quickly learnt that I could not sustain the business through making purely sculpture. I started looking at ways of working my craft into everyday objects. When I first started doing this, I was a little frowned upon by the art community. Times have changed and many sculptors also design furniture, and it is pretty accepted.
What is the most rewarding aspect about doing your Christmas windows?
The idea for doing the Christmas windows was initially my partner Mary’s idea. I have had so much fun making the windows. It brings me back to my childhood and my obsession with model making as a kid. It is nice to work on something that is playful and not so serious. The art world can sometimes take itself way too seriously, it is great to work on something for the pure fun and the joy of it. It gives me such a buzz to see kids’ and adults’ faces pressed to the window.
What are some of the most unusual things you have created?
Oh that is a hard one – I have made loads of things that could be considered unusual. For the Steampunk exhibition back in 2012, I upcycled an old railway bag and used skate board wheels to create a bag on wheels. In the fashion parade with Clockwork Butterfly, the models led the bag around like a pet. That was fun.
I guess I use a lot of unusual objects in making my creations. I like using things considered rubbish. For one body of work I used Scotch thistle that would normally be considered a pest. Other times I might use knitting needles, bowling balls or bones… it is the objects themselves that really inspire me.
Post Industrial Design’s Christmas window will light up until 10pm nightly until January 13. Jos Van Hulsen will also be holding an artist talk as part of the Open Studios program from 3-4pm Sunday, November 29.