He’s been commissioned to create a sculpture for the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney and he’s won both People’s Choice and Emerging Artist of the Year awards at past Swell Sculpture Festivals, but it’s only been recently that he even thought about pursuing his art.
When I met Dion Parker, it was in a gallery where he had a piece being installed as part of a portraiture exhibition. The sculpture looked like a stout lego man, eating a chicken drumstick which I had mistaken for a microphone. It was housed in what looked like a mini-coffin. He had another painting of a lego man smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer. Dion was getting ready to add some empty VB tinnies at the base of the painting’s easel.
Dion tells me he’s been on the Gold Coast for 20 years, having grown up in south Gippsland, Victoria and moving here at just 13.
“I’ve always loved drawing. I’ve still got drawings from when I was five or six years old,” he said. “I used to modify toys. Some of them were a bit macabre – I worried my mum a few times. I’ve always liked creating and making stuff and throughout school I was always getting in trouble for drawing in my maths book. I’d fill up all the margins with cartoons and faces.”
Despite that life-long love of art, Dion only got serious about it when his son was born – eight years ago. Being a boat-builder by trade, Dion says he was passionate about showing his son that there’s more to life than building other people’s dream boats.
“I decided to focus on my dreams,” he said. “Which is just creating, making art, painting, drawing, sculpture. Once my son came along I thought I don’t want him growing up seeing his dad trudging off to work every day being unhappy… there’s much more to life.”
Dion went to school at Currumbin Primary and Palm Beach Currumbin High, and though about going to university and studying art, but he says he got talked into working and making money and then “fell into the trap of the lifestyle of working and having money and going out and blowing it.”
It was only in 2011 that Dion decided to enter a piece in the Swell Sculpture Festival. “I’ve always lived around Currumbin and I’d drive past Swell every year and go down and look at the sculptures,” Dion told me. “I’d be like ‘I know I can do that. I really want to do that’ and it took me a long time – six or seven years and then I was like ‘no, I can’t do that, I’m not an artist, I’m not a professional’.”
When he finally got the confidence up to put in an entry, it was accepted, he won the People’s Choice Award (for Swell Smalls piece Beach Bum)and he’s done the event every year since. It’s only been four years, but I ask Dion what other art-related things he’s been up to.
“I did live painting at the Surfers Paradise Festival, was in a couple of groups exhibitions – one at Surfers Paradise and one at Southport. And then I did a comic for SUPworld– a local magazine,” he told me. “Then in 2012 I did a big wooden hand for Swell and that was popular and it sold. And then I got commissioned to do another one for the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney. I was stoked about that.”
“Plus I won the Emerging Artist Award at Swell that year, when I did the hand,” he said. He adds that Swell is an important platform for artists irrespective of whether they’re recognised and professional or an up-and-coming, emerging artist.
“It’s a great platform because they get 200,000 through there over the two weeks,” Dion said. “So it’s just a great way to get a truckload of people to see your work. And you can exhibit alongside recognised professional artists, so it’s really good. They’re all lovely ladies and happy to help you and easy to deal with..”
Dion is waiting to hear whether his entry into the 2015 Swell Sculpture Festival will be accepted – with an announcement due any day.
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The 13th annual Swell Sculpture Festival will run 11 – 20 September. More at swellsculpture.com.au.