AUSTRALIA—Yanni Rigos’s studio is nestled in the depths of the Victorian Dandenongs on his sprawling tree-filled block of land. There I found not only his wood workshop and house, but also the Wood Alchemy Gallery – a remarkable piece of woodwork art in itself – designed and built by Yanni.
The gallery showcases his precious boxes, as well as his beautiful houses and sculptural masterpieces.
Yanni is one of many artists who has opened his studio to visitors as part of the Dandenong Ranges Open Studios.
“Most wood workers don’t make a living,” he explains to those visiting his woodwork study. “All of the imports have made it very difficult.”
Yanni inherited his love of wood and woodcraft from his father, who immigrated to Australia in the 1920s from the Greek island of Ithaca (the home of Ulysses, Yanni reminds me). His Dad worked as a carpenter and boat builder, and taught Yanni the same trade. Yanni left school at 15 and ran his own carpentry business for 25 years. But when he turned 40, he realised that he really wasn’t living his dream.
“I was earning good money, but there’s more to it than that,” Yanni explained, sitting in his quiet lounge room overlooking the huge garden. “I practised yoga and meditation for many years and realised that real happiness comes from doing something you love. You’ve got to follow your dreams.”
While taking a break from his building business, Yanni decided to change direction and follow his passion for more creative and artistic woodwork. For the last 16 years he has worked full time as a wood artist.
Yanni explained how he used to love making little pieces of furniture for his son and from that grew his desire to make sculptures of houses, since he’d been a builder and always appreciated architecture. He now spends his time making beautiful sculptures and crafting exquisite boxes.
Although he enjoys making the boxes because of the pleasure they bring other people, he admits that they take a lot of hard work. The sculptures, on the other hand, are his real passion. “The sculpture work really comes from my inner being. It’s a very creative, inspiring process…Michelangelo used to say: ‘The sculpture’s in there.’ He’d just peeled away what wasn’t needed and there was a sculpture in there.”
Similarly, Yanni is committed to exploring and revealing the innate beauty and forms hidden within the woods he uses.
He starts building each sculpture from a basic sketch and incorporates different forms of architecture from different cultures, like the curves of the Orient and the onion shapes of Russian domes.
The exotic towers and turrets on the houses look like something from fantasy books, and Yanni admits that The Lord of the Rings is one of his inspirations and brings some of the deeper meanings to his work.
“The Lord of the Rings is a story of the journey of human beings tempted by the dark force and being of pure heart to be able to carry that ring. And also in there is the destruction of the environment, the big fires…so all of those things…political, social, spiritual themes.”
Yanni explains on his website that he uses a vast array of native Australian woods, many of which are offcuts of burls and other gnarled pieces of very old trees that have endured the forces of nature and time. “When incorporated into the structural form of the piece, they evoke a feeling of wonder and child-like joy of being free, while cradled in the embrace of nature.”
Yanni’s love of wood is also reflected in his passion for the environment. He is concerned about humanity’s lack of respect for the trees that bring so much life and beauty to the earth. “Trees should have a little prayer for them when they’re taken down,” he says. “Not that there’s anything wrong with using trees, it’s just how they’re used…in Tasmania, trees are used as just a commodity that have no life.”
Yanni hopes to build up his house sculptures and hold an exhibition in a couple of years in Melbourne’s CBD.
To see photos of Yanni’s sculptures and boxes, visit his website at www.woodalchemy.com . Online ordering is available via the website.
Dandenong Ranges Open Studios is an arts initiative of Burrinja and local artists, with support from the Shire of Yarra Ranges’ Community Grant Cultural Development Program. A full programme of all participating Dandenong Ranges artists is located at www.burrinja.org.au/arts/index.htm .