When the baby-faced 21- year-old musician and ‘The Boys next Door’, front man, Nick Cave, sang ‘These Boots are made for walking’ in 1978, I wonder if he intended walking over most artists in terms of breadth and depth of genre and artistic longevity.
Forty years later, the sexagenarian’s stately yet worn face shows the strain of four decades’ grind in the music industry and the emotional trauma of losing a son, yet his gaze is equally determined.
Cave can boast a career of multidimensional talent from singer-song writer, script writer and composer to the author of books and numerous screen scores and his artistry is unwavering. He also has an ever-expanding fan-base with supporters across continents ranging from 15 to 80 years of age.
Last week, Cave walked onto the stage of London’s Victoria Park to a capacity crowd of 35,000. Three days later, he performed at the IMMA Royal Hospital Kilmainham, in Dublin, Ireland with reviews claiming the artist’s popularity to be at an all-time high in the country.
In 1980, Cave put on his boots and walked out of Australia to London. His band, ‘The Birthday Party’, previously known as ‘The Boys next Door’, became an edgy maverick project which experimented with punk, free jazz, rockabilly and raw blues in the largely conservative capital.
Cave moved to Berlin in 1982 where he became a cult figure as he threw himself about on stage in the divided city. He even featured in Wim Wenders 1987 film epic: Wings of Desire in which a frenzied Cave belts out From Her to Eternity in a smoke filled Bar of head-banging Germans. Wender said that to make a film about Berlin in the 80s without Cave would have been a travesty.
Cave led a hedonistic lifestyle in West Berlin often oblivious to the politics surrounding him. When his German guitarist and Einstürzende Neubauten front man, Blixa Bargeld, interrupted a vocal take in November 1989, to say: ‘The Wall is coming Down’ Cave replied: ‘Fuck off, I’m trying to sing’. ‘I was immersed in my own sordid little world’, Cave ruminated at a Q&A Session with fans at the Abbey Theatre, in Dublin last week.
Cave’s boots have walked many miles over the years and his style has changed from ‘The Birthday Party’s’ screaming Berlin scene to its more uplifting ballads when the band, under the new name of ‘Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’, released ‘The Good Son’ album in 1990. This album was released when Cave lived in St Paulo in Brazil from 1990 to 1993; a lighter period in the artist’s life.
The band returned to darkness when it released ‘Murder Ballads’ in London in 1996. This album saw Cave appear as the murderous ‘Stagger Lee’, one of The Bad Seeds seminal tracks, and one Cave returned to in his recent film: ‘Distant Sky’, released in April this year.
The album also includes, ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’, which Cave wrote as a duet to perform with fellow Australian, Kylie Minogue. The artist’s crime of passion ballad quickly became Cave’s first main stream hit.
His latest and sixteenth album release, ‘Skeleton Tree’, was released in September 2016 the year after the artist lost his son in a tragic accident. Although Cave claims most songs were finished before he lost his 15-year-old-son Arthur, it is hard not to connect the sobering album with the tragic event.
Cave’s hedonism has waned over the years. He has become nostalgic and even appreciative. In his film ‘20,000 Days on Earth’, he converses with people who have been pivotal in his life. ‘The ghosts of the past are crowding in vying for space and recognition, have I remembered them enough, have I honored them sufficiently?’ Cave asks.
Although Cave has walked many miles, he remains intrinsically Australian from his love of the expletive and occasional outburst to his keen sense of irony.
The artist was born to Dawn and Colin Cave in 1957 in the Victorian town of Warracknabeal. The small town on the wheat-belt has recognized the value of the musician’s fame; it put signs up stating it as the artist’s birthplace in 2016.
Although Cave often travels to Australia to visit family as well as to perform, he is yet to make the trek up the Mallee Highway to visit his birthplace. Well, that is about to change, at least in representational form.
In 2008, the artist proposed an imposing bronze statue of him for the town. The idea sprang from my novel: ‘And the Ass saw the Angel’ Cave said. ‘The idea is to turn up in Warracknabeal with this statue, a wonderful gift of sublime generosity and if they wanted it, well good, but if they didn’t, well, I’d drive it into the desert and dump it there’ the artist said.
The Warracknabeal community has warmed to the idea over the years and ten years later the fable statue or ‘The Homecoming’, which until now, was seen as a myth and often dismissed by some locals as a fanciful idea, will proceed.
The Warracknabeal Arts Council in partnership with community organisations has decided to take on the project. ‘The statue will be an amazing tribute to Nick Cave. It is a bold, exciting and even bizarre concept that should attract attention from all quarters’, said Peter Loy from the Warracknabeal Arts Council.
The artist commissioned to create the statue of Cave is England’s Corin Johnson. Cave met the sculptor in 1995; Johnson was working on a woodcarving of Cave at the time. Johnson was also working on two limestone sculptures for Westminster Abbey; the two modern martyrs: ‘Esther John’ and ‘Janani Luwum’ stand proudly on the West Front of Westminster Abbey.
‘Nick and I devised the statue during the time I was working on ‘The Lady Diana Memorial’, Johnson said. ‘I had been working on a relief sculpture commissioned by Lady Diana’s brother, Charles Spenser’. Johnson’s cameo in black on white marble appears on The Lady Diana Memorial in Althorpe, England.
‘We discussed the proposal over a period of two years until we finally came up with the design of a rearing horse’, Johnson said. Shortly after, Johnson made a 300mm Marquette of a bare-chested Cave riding high on a rearing horse. The artist is holding a torch of eternal light.
‘My original design depicted a more muscular figure, however, Nick insisted on its modification’, ‘I have a more feminine physic’, Cave said.
There are three Marquette’s; one is owned by the sculptor from which Johnson has taken a cast for ‘the Homecoming’, a second, silver model stands in the Arts Centre, Melbourne. The Marquette was bought by the Arts Centre as part of the Nick Cave Exhibition held by Cave and the Arts Centre in 2007. The silver Marquette also travelled to Sydney and Canberra for the exhibition. The third, Cave’s personal gold model, stands in Cave’s office in his home in Brighton, England.
A further stone commissioning is ‘The Suppliant’ which the sculptor completed in 2011. Johnson’s stone carved panel of a kneeling slave with outstretched arms features on the Thomas Clarkson Memorial in Wisbach, Cambridgeshire in England. Clarkson was instrumental in persuading William Wilberforce to take up the anti-slavery cause in parliament which saw the passage of the Foreign Slave Trade Abolition Bill of 1807 and subsequent end to British trade in slaves.
For Warracknabeal’s ‘The Homecoming’, Johnson will create a bronze sculpture for which the rubber moulds will be produced in his studio outside London. These will later be transported to Australia. ‘The casting for the statue will be done in regional Victoria, hopefully in a foundry in Castlemaine’, Peter Loy said.
In order to oversee the project’s final bronze casting and installation, Johnson will travel to Australia and take up residence in regional Victoria for the duration of the project.
The sculptor hopes to start work on ‘The Homecoming’ in the near future, which at its completion will be around 2.5 metres in length and could stand as high as 4.5 metres (including plinth), Johnson estimates.
‘The costs of the project will be found through a crowd funding effort that will be launched later this year once the total costing has been calculated’, Loy said.
‘We are all hugely excited about the project’. ‘The Homecoming’ will become part of an expanding Arts Trail already bringing tourism to the Wimmera-Mallee through its Silos Art Project’, Loy said.
The statue will also be linked to the establishment of a Youth Arts Foundation that will provide support for youth in the Yarriambiack Shire who wish to pursue a career in the Arts. The Warracknabeal Art’s Council has already started to plan for an Artist in Residence to work with interested and talented youth in the region.
Johnson will be invited to visit schools and speak with community groups during his time in the region and he is well qualified to do so; Johnson is also on the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust, a selection panel which award grants to promising artists in England.
We believe the ‘Nick Cave Statue and Youth Arts Foundation Project’ are both realistic and exciting projects with amazing potential and worthy of community support’, the Warracknabeal Art’s council announced.
Since the original concept, ‘Cave has had no involvement with the project, but we are certain he will have more than a passing interest in its progress’, Loy added.
‘When asked if Warracknabeal’s birth son will don his boots once more and travel to his birth town for the unveiling of ‘The Homecoming’, Loy said, ‘We have no idea, but I believe, it was Cave’s idea to call it The Homecoming, after all’.