A sculptor’s journey

23 December 2016

Anton Poon, Master of Visual Arts

Anton Poon handled his first gun at age 12. It was part of what he calls 'formalised military training'.

"The training involved marching, getting in position with my classmates," Anton says.

"You had to wear military boots and clothes that were military-style. And then on weekends they had camps where we learned how to shoot and carry guns."

The one year of training was compulsory for attending his college of choice in Hong Kong, where he was born. It was hard, physically and mentally. But, he says, he never thought about whether it was right that he and his peers - who weren't yet teenagers - should be subjected to this.

"I just thought, I have to do it. This felt like part of the class because I had all my classmates there."

He adds: "Because I loved it, I signed on for another year."

That extra year was a turning point in Anton's life. He was dedicating so much time and energy to training that his grades began to slip.

"I guess that's one of the reasons I was sent here," he says.

'Here' was Canberra.

At 13, Anton was placed with a host family who lived near the high school he would attend. His host mother worked in the school office, and the family travelled regularly to the coast.

It was one of a number of 'Australianisms' which puzzled Anton.

"In Hong Kong, you only go to the beach or coast once or twice in the summer. It's something you wouldn't do every weekend," he says.

His host family retired and moved to the coast after Anton graduated from high school. Anton moved in with a new host family, and stayed with them throughout college.

When he finished college, he was confronted by the question of what to do next. This led him to study visual art, design, building design and contemporary craft at CIT and then, to come to the ANU School of Art.

He was drawn to art for the freedom it offered.

"Obviously within projects there are thematic restrictions," Anton says.

"However in Visual Art there is a lot more flexibility; I can work on my own projects without having another person telling me what to do all the time."

Since his third year, Anton has been using his work to explore the idea of cultural transition.

In his Honours year, he built several bridges, including one comprised of hundreds of mahjong pieces he crafted out of bronze. 

"I was influenced by the function of bridges in how they're used to connect places," Anton says.

"The bridges I built explore different stages of my transition from Hong Kong to Australia."

He expanded this idea into his Masters degree, creating five tunnels of steel and bronze.

"Similar to the idea of the bridge, tunnels are something that people use to travel from one place to another."

His masterpiece though, is Synergy: a 2.2 metre tall piece made of COR-TEN steel which won the School of Art prize in the 2016 Sculpture in the Paddock competition.

"COR-TEN steel is a material that reacts with the environment - it rusts," he explains.

"It will eventually stop rusting to the point where it creates this rust patina on top.

"I'm using these ideas to talk about how as a person and as an artist, I'm changing, I'm adapting," Anton says.

"I'm still adapting to this environment - and maybe this material's doing a similar thing.

The ANU Drill Hall gallery has valued Synergy at $14,000 and is raising funds to acquire it for the ANU art collection. The gallery describes Anton as having matured into "a sculptor of outstanding merit".

"At this point in time, I can definitely see myself practicing sculpture, continuing to use steel and bronze and continuing this theme of cultural transition," Anton says.

"But I'm not restricting what I'm capable of."