My name is Carl Billingsley. I am a sculptor. I was born in 1943 in Oklahoma. My father was in France with the US Army. He remained in the Army after the war and I became an “Army Brat” as we were frequently called whenever we moved to a new town. My early experiences as an ‘outsider’ probably made me more comfortable with new ideas and less conventional ways of doing and thinking. When we did return to Fort Sill, our home base in Okla., I spent as much time with my maternal grandparents as possible. I was very close to my granddad who was a carpenter. I went to the job-site with him whenever possible and it was through helping him and being taught how to build things that I acquired my love of making.
When I was about 9 years old we were posted to Germany. We lived in two different cities during the three years we were there and I discovered the world of museums, cities, cathedrals and monuments. It was in Germany that I first really encountered sculpture and I was amazed and awed by what I saw.
Like many people, I thought that one had to be chosen, or had to have a ‘special’ talent in order to become an artist. By the time I graduated from high school and started going to night classes at the community college, I came to realize that Art was like every other human endeavor. You just had to learn how to do it!
My original ambition was to be a writer. Having always been an avaricious reader, and still believing somewhat in the notion of ‘special talent’, I thought that I had a better chance of being a writer than an artist. Four years of English and Creative Writing classes convinced me to look into Art classes. I immediately gravitated to the sculpture studio and felt comfortable and capable. Fifty years later, I am still in the studio!
After several years of moving from one job to another, I was hired by the Univ. of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to run the wood shop at the School of Architecture and Urban Planning. I began my academic career as a technician and ‘ worked my way up’ to become Professor & Coordinator of the Sculpture program at East Carolina University, in North Carolina. All the while, I maintained an active studio practice and sought every opportunity to exhibit. I was especially interested in opportunities to exhibit and work abroad. I have always believed that strong work will be recognized regardless of place and culture.
I feel that an artist should be able to communicate with their work even though they don’t share language, culture, time and place with their audience. My belief in this idea was substantiated with awards for my sculptures in competitive exhibitions in Japan, China and Australia. In 1993 I won the semi-grand prize at “Toya Mura International Sculpture Biennale”, Toya Mura. In 2003 my sculpture took a top prize in the “1st Guilin Yuzi Paradise International Sculpture Awards” Guilin, China, and another sculpture was accepted into the “Toyamura International Sculpture Biennale 2003” Toya-Mura, Japan. Last year I won the Andrea Stretton Memorial Invitational Award at Sculpture by the Sea-Bondi in Sydney, Australia. That award was an invitation and funding to exhibit in Sculpture by the Sea-Cottesloe in Perth, Australia this year in March.
Sculpture by the Sea has been one of the best known and most successful international competitive sculpture exhibitions in the world for more than 10 years. I have known about it as an opportunity for a long time, but it was only when I decided to propose an installation that I realized my chance to participate. Because I was not in a position to finance shipping one of my large-scale steel or cast iron sculptures to Australia as an entry to the exhibition, I designed an installation, which could be made of survey flags. Shipping 6,000 flags to Sydney was expensive but possible! I was delighted and encouraged when my request for support from Presco was met with the donation of all the flags that I needed for the installation! I have used Presco flags for several years to make installations but I had never done one at this scale. After researching suppliers on-line I found Presco to have the best quality, prices, services and delivery. No other supplier had as extensive a range of flags, printing options and customer service.
My installation at Sculpture by the Sea –Bondi was inspired by a research trip that my wife Catherine and I took to Australia in 2009. We started our travel in Cairns, where we went to the Great Barrier Reef, spent another day in the Rain Forest and then flew to Alice Springs. Our visit to the heart of Australia, especially exploring Uluru, the great red rock that is sacred to the indigenous people, was the highlight of the trip. We also explored Sydney, visited Canberra and spent a day in the Blue Mountains. The center of this vast continent is often referred to as “ the Red Center”. Our experience confirmed the accuracy of this title and that became the scheme for my installation. “Red Center” was composed of concentric rings of alternating red and yellow survey flags with the innermost rings comprised solely of red flags.
I was a bit surprised by the complexity and extent of the logistical and safety issues that Sculpture by the Sea raised in regard to my installation. Many e-mails and even several telephone calls resolved many of the questions but for some reason the survey flags were seen as a possible maintenance problem for a show being staged over almost three weeks. All remaining concerns were answered when, on the third day of the exhibition, a terrific storm blew in from the sea and several sculptures were literally blown down. I made my way to “Red Center” at first light and discovered that a few dozen flags had been bent down by the wind. It took less than an hour to make things right again and I never heard another word about maintenance issues!