North & South: Profile on Ben Pearce

North & South: Profile on Ben Pearce

Look up at the ceiling of sculptor Ben Pearce’s studio and you’ll see a cluster of tiny marks, made by fine steel blades sent flying from his old scroll saw. “I know it’s time to stop when the blade breaks off and hits the ceiling,” says Pearce, who often works at night when it’s quiet and his two young children, Oscar and Olive, are in bed. “When it goes, it goes, and it usually wakes up my son.” But he likes antique tools, with their own quirks and ways of working. Scroll saws were traditionally used to create jigsaws; Pearce uses his to sculpt wood into artworks. For one series, called Walnuts, he collected shells gnawed by rats who live in the walnut tree in his garden, cast them in bronze, then added wooden twig shoots, which seemed to sprout from the shells. Pearce’s studio is in the spare room of the family’s 140-year-old home on Napier’s Bluff Hill. An old-worldly house, with big sash windows and a narrow, winding staircase, it looks as if it were inspired by an Enid Blyton children’s book. The studio’s shelves are stacked with an eclectic collection of parts and tools. A broken French scooter Pearce bought 20 years ago lies above a giant antique lathe. A bench grinder dating from 1915 sits on the main table. Staples for a staple gun spill out of a box crammed onto a shelf. Pearce is drawn to such broken, found objects with “a past life”, which he transforms into thought-provoking sculptures resembling geological landscapes such as moon craters, or scientific apparatus. “I like altering something over a long period of time into a work of art that lasts forever, and sits in a home and is engaged with on a daily basis, and is treasured.”