A Zest for Life

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By Dr Helen Topliss
For the past 18 months I have been walking past a mosaic, mural project situated on the outer wall of the St Kilda Bowling Club, near the St Kilda Park Primary School’s gates. I’ve seen groups of kids adding new pieces of mosaic and Raku pottery to the wall, usually accompanied by a man with thick, radiating, wiry hair that looks like a dark sun. The mural is an ongoing project overseen by the mosaic artist called Sankar Nadelson (aka ‘the Mosaic Man’).

Last week I saw Sankar adding pieces onto the mural, as he reached up high to fix a piece of Raku (an ancient Japanese technique often suited to a rough textured aesthetic) on to the tallest part of the wall, I stopped and said hello. I was greeted by an amazingly glorious smile and we began to talk. It turns out that Sankar is no enthusiastic amateur, but a well-seasoned artist of twenty years standing who has many impressive commissions behind him.

Despite Sankar’s success as a mosaicist, he believes in involving himself with the community, particularly with kids; he remembers the teachers that influenced him when he was young and feels a strong need to reciprocate. The children that he is involved with are the guiding spirits behind his projects; everything they undertake is done from their point of view. He also knows them all by name.

As Sankar says the kids offer him “the wonderment of existence”, the work that they have done together grows organically over time, as do the kids themselves. Sankar started working with the children at SKIPS because his son was a pupil there (followed by his three daughters). He began to work as a volunteer art teacher doing drawings with the children, gradually progressing to mosaics from a collection of his left over materials. The mosaics were a big hit to be followed by Raku pottery samples, decorated and painted by the kids in a free form fashion.

The ceramics and pottery pieces were placed on the wall at the side of the Bowling Club facing Albert Park. The mural is organic; it has grown visibly over the past 18 months, reflecting the spirit of its creators – passers-by comment on how cheery it looks. When you come up close to it you see individual motifs that represent the children’s interests; there are images of Luna Park (the mural celebrates the centenary of Luna Park), animals, flowers, and even items such as sneakers. Put together these separate icons of daily life form a cohesive whole that radiates warmth and well-being.

Sankar is equally dedicated to his volunteer work with kids, as he is to his larger commercial schemes. He has completed some large commissions like a 400 square metre pool lined entirely with mosaics for the then CEO of the AFL, Clinton Casey, at his home in Shakespeare Grove, Hawthorn. The pool is lined with 220 carat white gold mosaics which glisten with refracted light.

He has completed a commission for an indoor pool for Australian architects who designed a mansion in Dubai. Here he used columns decorated with Islamic patterned mosaics. He has also been commissioned to do sporting commemorative pieces such as the logo of Jack Dyer derived from an old black & white photo of the football hero – The logo can be seen at the beginning of the Footy Show credits.

Sankar’s interests and talents as an artist are interlaced with his voluntary community work. Large projects such as the commission for the Richmond Swimming Pool exist side by side with his work with the Adventure Playground, St Kilda, where he is working with children to decorate the interior of the 20 square metre fort in the playground. The interior also features tiles which include portraits of the children infused on their surface. At the Playground, Sankar provides food obtained from the Second Byte project, from which he produces meals on a Wednesday for anyone who cares to come along. Sankar’s work provides food for the soul as well as for the body.

Sankar Nadelson will be a guest speaker at St Kilda Rotary Club at the Melbourne Wine Room (corner Gray and Fitzroy Streets) on the 18th of June at 6:30pm. All are welcome to attend – $25 for dinner and talk. Bookings can be made online at www.stkildarotary.org.au or you can RSVP to pr@stkildarotary.org.au

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