Ben Carroll likes wood. Sea-bitten and battered. Weathered and wounded. From a four-year-old boy in Balnarring trying to making triangles out of timber with a hammer and nails to prolific sculptor and furniture maker, he’s always been obsessed with carpentry. His tables are beautiful, while his large wooden balls are extreme and organic. Jenga on steroids. Up close you’ll find a patchwork of perfectly textured imperfection held in place by those very triangles he tried to build all those years ago. He explains:
“My grandfather was a carpenter and used to include me in his projects. He taught me to use a brace and bit, which is the old-fashioned equivalent of a cordless drill. I use lots of his tools with his initials engraved in them still. I’ve always loved boats and would try making one out of anything I could get my hands on as a kid. Pig troughs. Fences. My family moved to Somers when I was about a year old, then to Balnarring and back again. During the ‘70s I used roam around the building sites in Somers and collect scrap wood. It was all oregon and cedar then. The smell of cedar takes me back to my eight-year-old self.”
Some say you should never be a maker. Creator. Artist. It’s too hard to make a buck. Ben knows this only too well. Before he began living the dream – which means making a living out of ideas, I reckon – he was a boat fixer, bus driver, sail maker. And a ‘pseudo teacher’ in the Hands On Learning program, which aims to engage disengaged students. He built his first Paper Tiger Catamaran at 14 and used to pull rafts together so he could sail away physically and metaphorically. Still an avid sailor and a member of Merricks Yacht Club, Ben concedes those canvas-clad propulsive forces of nature are what got him hooked on sculpture. Kinetic carving much?
Ben continues: “I did woodwork at Hastings High and also made sails. I loved it. Sail making is sculpture. They have to be 3D aerofoil shape. Hanging out in Hastings back then was like injury control. I’d walk down to visit Mum, who was a florist, and fiddle around with flowers after school careful not to get caught by the tough kids. Ha. My work shed is in Hastings now and I love it.”
For a man who makes bendy poles and trees that look like wild, gnarly sea worms, wooden hearts and balls and striking furniture, this ideas originator is finally making his lumber-infused mark. He may have been thrown from yachts, driven bus-loads of kids to and from Red Hill Consolidated School and built a coffin for his dad Ted out of kitchen bench tops, but that’s life. Oh yeah. He also received the Montalto Sculpture Prize in 2017 for his sculpture The Bush of Ghosts, which is a cracking deliverance into spatial awareness and the intimacy of distance. Take a look at his work on Instagram.
This self-confessed ‘greenie’ is happiest when tinkering in his shed. He’s also deeply grateful for the guidance Stan Byrne and Dick White gave him as a kid. Ben continues: “They lived in Somers and showed me how to fix things. My sister Viki and her husband John Murray have been a massive influence too. There was a stage when I thought I’d be a truck driver. Now I’m a furniture builder and sculptor who uses his own crane truck to deliver, install my sculptures and collect jetty timber. It’s the embodiment of a little boy’s dreams.”
And with that he’s off to visit his mum Carole in Somers. There’s roses that need taking care of.