Zooming from man-cave to a higher form
Artist Eamon O'Toole at his workshop with some of his artworks. Photo: Eddie Jim
STRANGE thoughts come to a man when he's awake at 2am watching Mick Doohan blitzing a racetrack in a city far, far away.
Brunswick artist Eamon O'Toole has spent many such nights watching TV alone, cradling an obsession. A dirt bike rider himself, he was moved to get off the sofa and create a tribute, a conflagration of engine parts titled Big Bang, now the signature piece in his new exhibition.
Big Boys Toys opens at the Art Gallery of Ballarat on Saturday and revheads are sure to be in attendance. Burning rubber won't fill their nostrils, but in other ways O'Toole has delivered a big chequered flag moment for fans of the sport - he's made it even more heroic, installing shiny speed machines and gleaming tool kits in some of Australia's finest art galleries.
Using moulded plastic that becomes malleable when heated, and with delicate drawing, he re-creates dirt bikes and pushbikes, golf clubs and engine parts - the passions of his youth.
For Big Bang, O'Toole crafted hundreds of plastic engine parts that hang, suspended in time, a homage to the inner workings of Doohan's Honda NSR 500 - ''an airborne flower arrangement - the ultimate mechanical ikebana'', in the words of Ted Gott, a senior curator at the National Gallery of Victoria.
O'Toole's work is now included in the NGV and many other public and private collections Australia-wide. However, the path from his Gippsland childhood to semi-respectable middle age was littered with dinged-up vehicles and, occasionally, body parts.
The talent of the boy who nearly maimed several of his best friends when his overloaded go-kart crashed on a steep hill, sending them home scarred and bloody, made no impression on their furious parents.
O'Toole still bears the scars from that day - yet he never put down his tools, encouraged by parents and art teachers to pursue his own subjects for art.
''I always thought art should be about what you like. Other people in high school art classes did things like classical nudes but I just couldn't go down that path.''
Accepted into a Victoria College of the Arts sculpture course, he clung to his faith in his tinkering - even when one teacher told him ''you'll could go so much further if you changed the subject matter''.
''He thought cars and bikes were boys' stuff, and that I could have been a bit artier. But how they're made is what's interesting for me.''
He's not making replicas. ''It's important to have the artist's touch in them,'' he says. He wants them to look handmade - heightened images of the pursuits and skills of his country childhood.
Scrounging rolls of PVC from manufacturers, he stretches and shapes his objects. Cooling, they become firm, then O'Toole gilds them with silver leaf to evoke the steely strength of metal.
As a part-time technical assistant at the NGV, he works on its priceless collection when not tinkering at home. Days before his next show, he's loading up a truck with his bikes and engine bits, bound for Ballarat.
As in a previous successful show in Ipswich, Queensland, he may well broaden the audience base. ''Most of my old mates are not into the arts - they come and say 'you should make a …' They always have a particular thing they want to see made''.
Big Boys Toys opens at the Art Gallery of Ballarat on December 15.