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Noel Risley died eight years ago. It is time to pay tribute to the man and artist whom many in the Far North knew during his thirty years or so in the region. Noel was a very fine sculptor of wood and stone, and his pieces are in many private collections. For the first time it has been possible, with the kind co-operation of his widow Phyllis, his children, friends and collectors, to bring together his work in a retrospective show at Fine Art Australia.
From early childhood Noel had always fashioned any materials he could lay hands on. He made sculptures out of fencing wire, drew and painted compulsively on all the shed walls on his father's dairy farm in the Gympie area. In later life, wherever he might have been, his mind and hands were intent on the artistic expression of what he saw. In a restaurant he would turn drinking straws into dancing ladies, in pubs he sketched and painted people and situations. Out .in the wilderness of Cape York he would take his axe, and with a few strokes, hew an anthill into a figurative sculpture.
When caretaking on Restoration Island he used pumice stone, as there was little other material suitable for sculpting. But he mainly worked with white beach, acacia cedar, red cedar, granite, sandstone or coral, fire bricks and even angle iron which he shaped with an oxyacetylene torch. His best work was done in camps where he would live for months on end, chiselling figures and faces which grew out of the material he worked. People from all walks of life would seek him out, which he enjoyed, and he would draw and sculpt them.
Over the years Noel exhibited at the Cairns Art Society Shows, and also at the lnnisfail Art Society shows. He had two one-man shows at the Trinity Gallery, Cairns in 1974 and 1976. He was never a very regular participant of exhibitions, but was proud that two of his sculptures were included at the prestigious Transfield Sculpture Exhibition in Melbourne.
For a long time Noel did not sell his work but chose to give it to people he liked. That may be one of the major reasons for his work being mainly in private collections rather than in museums and state galleries. It is hoped that this retrospective tribute to Noel Risley will form the basis of a documentation on his life and work, and the gallery would like anyone who knew Noel well to get in touch.