From stonemasonry to embroidery, football and sculpture, for Steven John Clark, it was an unconventional path that eventually led to founding Melbourne-based studio denHolm.
This cross-disciplinary experience has been fundamental to the development and refinement of Steven’s creative practice, and to the success of denHolm. The studio is named after the small Scottish town of Denholm, population 600, where Steven was born and raised. He reflects that his childhood freedom to explore, left to his own devices, “shaped me – my imagination was really strong as a result.”
As a teenager, Steven found his love of football and began an apprenticeship as a stonemason. While he enjoyed stonemasonry, which included working on centuries-old buildings for Historic Scotland, attending music festivals drew him to fashion. “So, I went from football training every night to sitting on my Granny’s sewing machine – my dad thought ‘this is mental!’ – but it led to me getting into some fashion magazines,” he recalls. Pursuing his interest in fashion at Glasgow College, Steven then moved to Manchester with his wife, artist Bobbie Clark, to study embroidery.
He reflects that his childhood freedom to explore, left to his own devices, “shaped me – my imagination was really strong as a result.”
After studying in Manchester, the couple moved to Australia, where Steven returned to stonemasonry, working in high-end residential construction. “After about four years, the need to be creative came back,” he says, and this led him to experiment with new projects at Pop & Scott in Northcote, where Bobbie had a studio. “I was making stuff from cement with weird aggregates like sawdust,” Steven says. “Then, Camilla, of Carpenter’s Daughter, asked me to make a plinth from limestone from a site I was working on, and that was a real lightbulb moment.” Within months of making this first piece, Steven founded denHolm and moved the studio into its warehouse in Reservoir, in Melbourne’s north, and never looked back.
Since then, denHolm has become known for blurring the line between art and design. Here, Steven’s broad range of experience comes to the fore. “Everything informs my work,” he says. “I was told by a great lecturer at Manchester to take everything from your past, everything that makes you different from everyone else, and accumulate it in your work.” This advice changed the way he sought out inspiration – “I looked into feeding the brain not just through art and design and started trying to find inspiration from other places where you wouldn’t normally look. In my final degree show I explored nanotechnology,” he recalls.
Within months of making this first piece, Steven founded denHolm and moved the studio into its warehouse in Reservoir, in Melbourne’s north, and never looked back.
This impetus to be open to all influences and sources of inspiration, along with the problem-solving skills developed through studying embroidery, have been key to denHolm’s approach to art and design. The graphic, organic carved forms that characterise denHolm’s work reflect Steven’s willingness to not take a straightforward approach, but rather, to relish the unexpected discoveries that can emerge throughout the process. In fact, he often deliberately sets himself challenges that lead to more interesting, surprising results. “I sometimes set out in a direction I know isn’t going to work, then pull myself back,” Steven explains, “I really enjoy mistakes, sometimes I try to correct them, sometimes I keep them in there. Say we’re making planter, if a bit chips off it doesn’t matter because it becomes unique.”
This approach is also informed by Steven’s childhood memories of furniture that found beauty in its handmade quality and which was so old it was given a name. “When I began making furniture, I never wanted to produce anything lacking that handmade element,” he says. “I remember growing up with pieces that had names, and that’s why all the denHolm products are named after people. We’ve left the world where things have a character, now, if we get a table and if it’s not in fashion anymore, it’s thrown out.”
“I really enjoy mistakes, sometimes I try to correct them, sometimes I keep them in there. Say we’re making planter, if a bit chips off it doesn’t matter because it becomes unique.”
Rejecting uniformity in favour of creating furniture and sculptures with individual character, the three-dimensional forms carved from stone read differently from every angle, prompting one to engage more closely with the object. “If something’s completely symmetrical, the eye reads it very quickly and doesn’t stay there very long,” Steven explains. “The analogy is driving a car; if you’re on an interesting, winding road, you might stop, get out and have a wee look. I want people to walk around one of my pieces and not know what it’s going to be like on the other side.”