Review / Two craftspeople deliver ‘fun yet practical’ work

craft / “Michael Retter & Scott Mitchell”, Bungendore Wood Works Gallery, until February 27. Reviewed by MEREDITH HINCHLIFFE.

Mitchell and Retter’s ‘beetle’-shaped table.

SCOTT Mitchell and Michael Retter are two senior craftspeople who have worked together in the past, and are now having fun with their most recent exhibition at Bungendore Wood Works Gallery.

Mitchell has made two large, simple butterflies and several low tables that represent beetles. He also made the hall tables that carry Retter’s detailed marquetry tops and Retter made the veneer for the insect tables. So it’s a true collaboration and as always, the sum is far more than the parts.

Together they have always sought new ground, exploring unfamiliar territory.

Retter has discovered a way of colouring wood and is using his new found skill in two series of panels. One group depicts the colourful trunks of snow gums, both in abstract and in detail; the second uses a coloured background for his familiar eucalypt and other foliage.

Snow gums have highly coloured trunks – particularly when they are wet and Retter captures the random nature of the swirling patterns and colours of the bark. The long works are displayed vertically, but could also be hung horizontally. The second group shows smaller works, with generally paler backgrounds overlaid by foliage.

Cherry Blossom. By Michael Retter and Scott Mitchell.

A marquetry cherry blossom panel sits beautifully above a long, slim hall table which also carries a cherry blossom design. Together they form a stunning pair. Two other slim, long hall tables are on exhibit, with designs of golden wattle and fuchsia. Three, gently curved legs highlight the marquetry tops of each table.

Mitchell has recently moved to the countryside near Canberra, and this might have inspired him to play with the form of insects. Four low tables are in the very basic form of a beetle, with a body and a head. The dark heads – from highly figured and glossy macassar ebony – contrast with the lighter bodies – from Huon pine, figured myrtle and Fiddle back Blackwood. The polished surfaces bring out the highly figured surface of the timber, giving an eerily evocative appearance of beetle shells. The tables are fun and practical.

This exhibition shows the virtuosity of both craftspeople, who have consummate skills and work well with each other – bouncing ideas as part of their conversations. It’s a delight to see these two deriving such joy from their work while giving pleasure to viewers.

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