LEARNING to become a resourceful inventor on the family farm at Bordertown was an integral influence on James Dodd’s career as a visual artist and more recently, it has led him to re-open the discussion about the conservation of Australia’s water lifeline, the Murray-Darling Basin.
Growing up on the family farm, Lowan Park, James learned to carry a sense of adaptation to life’s challenges, whether it be to fix a piece of broken machinery or surviving a tough year on the land.
The 1000-hectare mixed farming operation was run by James’s father Wayne and grandfather Max, with his brother Ralph, since it was bought in 1928.
James’s parents Wayne and Marg, and his sister Lucy have continued to farm the property with 700 Angus and Hereford breeders.
After finishing school at Bordertown, James went on to complete a Bachelor of Visual Arts at the University of SA before he undertook a masters qualification in the same subject area.
“My agricultural background has obviously formed my life – it makes me the artist that I am today,” James said.
“I was very fortunate that I was encouraged to pursue what I loved and there was no pressure to take on the farm,” he said.
But it goes without saying the biggest impact on James’s artwork came from having to fix, repair or make adaptations and invent new things to get through another day on the farm.
“Farmers always have to be the fixer and problem solver or it would never get fixed,” James said.
“Whether it was as simple as using a piece of wire to hold something up or something more complicated such as knowing how to get a machine up and running again, on the farm we just carried the acceptance that things were often broken and not quite perfect.”
Although aware of of the impact his agricultural background had on the way he crafted his artwork, James said it was not until recently that he realised his pieces celebrated farm life.
“I realised that all my work is about fixing, building and being resourceful," he said.
“I have made bicycles which are art and some that are rideable. My latest project came from a pedal-powered vehicle interest, as well as my sense of adaptation which I learned from the farm.”
James believes his career path into the art world was quite clear from a young age and the inspiration of two grandmothers who were talented oil painters concreted this belief.
“My grandmother lived on the farm and was an oil painter of bush landscapes and wildlife, so she gave me an understanding about what an artist was,” he said.
Riding SA’s rivers to bring better water awareness
GROWING up with a strong sense for the need of water conservation has driven artist James Dodd’s latest project, River Cycle.
James’s family farm at Bordertown did not always receive its fair share of rainfall when he was a child and therefore relying on rainwater had its challenges.
“We had to have a big sense of water usage because we lived only off rainwater, it was very much an obvious visual of how much water we used – so it was very real,” James said.
He said River Cycle came from the lineage of his interest in pedal-powered objects but also to help drive new discussions about SA’s river health.
“Whilst those conversations are very active in a lot of regional towns they are less active in an urban context. Because this project switches between being shown in both of these environments, I hope those audiences cross-pollinate with that conversation,” James said.
The project supported by Vitalstatistix at Port Adelaide is a man-made pedal powered boat that will ‘ride’ Australia’s main rivers.
“The hull was made professionally but all the parts that make it work were sourced and created from all different types of things,” James said.
“The project has taken about four months and it will travel in the Murray River at Murray Bridge on May 20 and eventually at Renmark, but also the Onkaparinga and Patawalonga rivers, and River Torrens, to bring about that discussion of rivers to people in an urban environment,” he said.