Charles Smith and Joan Walsh-Smith are a husband and wife sculpture team originally from Ireland, working internationally for over forty years, collaborating on large scale public artworks in Europe, South-East Asia and Australia, where they settled in 1984. They have been working in the field of public art since winning the prestigious Art in Context British Arts Council award in 1973. In 1978 they won the Irish National Fine Art Sculpture Award with their large bronze, ‘The Bird of the Golden Land’. They have produced many exhibitions, in Ireland and Continental Europe, centered around concepts of intrinsic importance to their development as artists.
Two solo exhibitions in Holland, sponsored by Heineken and Centraal Beheer, the Dutch National Insurance Corporation, were followed by their being selected to represent Ireland, with a major exhibition at 'Arteder’, the international contemporary sculpture Biennale in Bilbao, Spain. After this, they were invited to mount an exhibition at the Museum of Berga, near Barcelona for the Patum Festival. Charles & Joan then lived & worked between Ireland and Spain for a number of years, exhibiting and undertaking many commissions in Valencia & Marbella.
After a visit to Australia in 1983, they decided to base themselves and their three children in Perth, setting up their studios in the bush land hill- setting of Gidgegannup, surrounded by native wildlife and their own bird sanctuary where they care for injured and abandoned birds.
From there they operate all over Australia and into Asia having won an international competition to produce the entrance statement time-piece sculpture for the University of Science & Technology in Hong Kong in 1991 and the commemorative sculpture, ‘Heaven & Earth’ in Tai Po Park, celebrating the re-unification of Hong Kong & China plus many other large-scale works in Hong Kong including 8 No. major copper murals at City Plaza for the Swire group and the ‘Journey to the West’ relief mural at Fung Tak Park. Other significant projects include the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Recovery Memorial in Kobe, Japan.
The first major commission undertaken in Australia was the National Memorial to the Australian Army, Anzac Parade, Canberra, as winners of a National competition in 1988. Their most significant project of this kind in Western Australia, is the Memorial to HMAS Sydney, Geraldton. Other war memorials followed on and have become a major part of Charlie & Joan’s work, and a crucial commitment in their lives. The most significant of these is the HMAS Sydney Memorial, Geraldton W.A. which they completed for the 60th Anniversary of the sinking, in 2001. This memorial covers the top of Mount Scott and involves major symbolic elements that tell the narrative of this, the most terrible single tragedy in Australian military history. Following on from the finding of the wreck of the Sydney in 2008, they are engaged in the design of the final element to commemorate this somber occasion. ‘Closing the Circle’
Historical works are a major feature of their commission. In Perth, they created the Heritage Trail Sculpture Walk comprising eleven over-life size bronze sculptures and the Citizen of the Year Swan Fountain in Burswood Park, the Alexander Forrest sculpture and the bronze Kangaroos in St. George’s Terrace. Also in the CBD, the ‘Footsteps in Time’ sculpture series comprising five bronze figures in the forecourt of St. Martin’s Centre and the extensive complex of copper and steel artworks based on the history of Perth in the interior. For Kalamunda Shire, they have produced the Gum Nut Fountain series consisting of three major roundabout water feature bronze sculptures. The Heritage Circle in Victoria Park is also based on the history of the area, amongst many other civic features throughout the Metropolitan area.
In South Perth they were commissioned to do the May Gibbs memorial and the Mother & Joey Kangaroo group at Perth Zoo.
In 1999, they were commissioned to do the Memorial to the Pearl Diver, Broome, WA In Fremantle, the Memorial to the Migrant Children stands at the new Maritime Museum and the Statue to War time Prime Minister John Curtin commissioned by the State Government of WA. was unveiled at Fremantle Town Hall for the Anniversary of the end of WWII in November 2005
In recognition of their work Charles & Joan were each awarded the ‘ Centenary Medal ‘ 2001 for outstanding achievements in the field of ‘Large Scale Public Art’.
Linking back to their Irish heritage, Charlie & Joan produced the Catalpa Memorial, in commemoration of the Fenians, for the City of Rockingham in 2005. In that year they also produced the Freedom sculpture for the Pivot Group. Projects in 2006 were comprised of several commissions in the centre of Perth: the Septimus Roe Piazza Heritage Sculpture; the ‘street theatre’ bronze of Percy Buttons in Hay Street Mall; The Foundation Professor’s Commemorative Walk at the University of Western Australia comprising 12 No. bronze relief twice life-size portraits, was unveiled in September 2007.Other key projects undertaken in that year, was the Willem de Vlamingh Memorial time-piece at Barrack Square, Perth, as a result of winning a competition to commemorate the Mapping of Australia.
During this period, they began work on a major commission for the Perth Transport Authority: The Sapphire Atomic Clock Tower-inspired by the World’s most accurate atomic clock, built by a young team of physicists at the University of WA, led by Dr. Andre Luiten. This clock is accurate to 1/10 billionth of a second. The 15 meter high glass-symbolic sapphire crystal tower will be linked by land line to UWA and will incorporate 3 full colour screens, displaying the world’s most accurate time. It is hoped to be completed by July 2010.
Also during this period, they developed an exciting memorial to the construction of the Rabbit Proof Fence for the Cunderdin Historical Society which is planned to be initiated in Cunderdin in 2009/10 but will also involve different elements of this original artwork being installed at key points in the 32 Shires along the route of the Fence, covering approximately 3,000 Kilometers. Thus the longest fence in the world will be honoured by the longest memorial in the world.
In 2008 another in the Gum Nut Fountain series was completed for Kalamunda Shire at High Wycombe. There were also two city centre projects in Adelaide Terrace; steel entrance gates at Peak Apartments: and a 6 meter high relief mural, Swan earth Song. They also collaborated on a major entrance statement for Woodside Petroleum at Karratha. In an exciting innovative departure, Charlie & Joan designed and produced a major artwork based on the history of wine at Saracen Winery in Margaret River WA: The Temple of Wine. In this year they also completed a large steel war memorial for Onslow, WA.
Charlie and Joan are extremely committed artists who take pride in their ability to interpret any commission or design any project. On a practical front, they take pride in their ability to extend themselves beyond any previous parameters, in an effort to express something essentially unique about every commission. This involves a continuous exploration of materials from the most ancient techniques such as Lost Wax Casting, sand casting, stone and wood carving, clay modeling etc., through to glass, plastics, C.N.C. computer cutting, including plasma, laser and water-jet. They also use computer graphics in various forms to create ideas and designs. All the above, is carved out at their bush land studios at Gidgegannup, Western Australia, assisted by their daughter, Joanne and engineer, John Colley.