Will Coles and his wife Tiffany Payne-Coles

Will Coles and his wife Tiffany Payne-Coles

Will Coles, one of Sydney’s most dedicated art mavericks, is leaving town to live in Spain. All I can say is, “bugger”.

Coles is known to any of you who have ever stumbled across one of his strange and enigmatic concrete sculptures that are stuck down firmly on Sydney’s streets. Squashed balaclavas and drink cans, TV remotes and mobile phones, the small invaders have appeared overnight in shady laneways and odd little parks all over the place. There used to be a squished tetra pack near Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. It was so real I actually reached down to give it a poke. Sure enough, it wasn’t budging. Will Coles had been there, no doubt in the dead of night.

I was lucky to interview Coles a good half-dozen times as I wrote about his exploits and exhibitions for the Daily Telegraph. He also invited me to write a short piece for a brochure on his work.

“Will Coles began exhibiting his sculptures in the back streets of inner suburban Sydney in about 2007, in places where they were pretty much tripped over rather than deliberately sought out for viewing,” I wrote. “Uninvited, raw and unapologetic, they quickly became part of the inner  western vibe.”

Coles’ work was taken up by Brenda May Gallery, then Art Equity gallery in Sydney, and he has now had numerous shows. He has also been exhibited in the Holy Grail of Sydney sculpture, Sculpture by the Sea. His appearance there was with a large rendition of those fish-shaped soy sauce containers you get from takeaway shops. But that was many years after he had been an unofficial entrant to Sculpture by the Sea, sneaking into the site under cover of dark to dump his concrete television sets among the invited, sanctioned entries.

Coles’ very witty work, Memorial To The Unknown Armchair General, was exhibited in Hidden, the exhibition of sculpture at Rookwood cemetery. The work is a comfy lounge chair and poof, with a general’s cap on the seat of the chair. All in concrete, I assume. So, as you see, Coles by now is part of the Sydney art scene and has a large and enthusiastic following.

A couple of weeks ago, I met up with Coles and his wife Tiffany Payne-Coles in an Enmore cafe to talk about their plans for Spain. Coles said it felt weird to be leaving when he’s had such a good year. Not only did he marry Tiffany, he also started getting into regional gallery collections, such as Albury, Bathurst and Goulburn, and was shown in the prestigious McClelland sculpture award. “It was the best show I’ve been in, so I was happy with that,” he said.

I asked if the AGNSW had bought anything of his, but no. “I have left stuff outside there,” Coles said. Dropping his art works outside galleries at night has been part of his modus operandi for years.

A Coles balaclava

A Coles balaclava

Coles believes galleries such as Tasmania’s MONA and Chippendale’s White Rabbit are the future. He has spent a lot of time at White Rabbit’s beautiful library, a space I only recently discovered myself.

As for Spain, Coles and Tiffany will leave at the end of March and settle in a rural property about two hours drive from Valencia. Coles inherited the property from family. “I’m taking a lot of moulds so as soon as I get there I can start casting,” Coles said.

It looks like Valencia had better start looking out for Coles’ stick-down sculptures, because he aims to continue this habit in Spain.

Coles is excited  about living near Barcelona which he describes as a hub for street art. And he’s thrilled to be moving to near Valencia, where amazing street art is everywhere but “no one rates it”.

I was always interested in the fact that Coles’ grandfather was the famous British sculptor Norman Sillman. Coles would consult his grandfather over intractable sculptural problems. I was sad to learn from Coles that Sillman passed away in 2013.

Coles plans to keep exhibiting in Sydney at Art Equity and also at M.Contemporary.

I can only wish Coles and Tiffany a very happy future in Valencia. We will miss them.

Elizabeth Fortescue, March 5, 2015