Monkey Tail Design

By Emily Friedel

DARREN GILBERT has a profound love of Australia’s environment and strives to live in harmony with it. There are no sharp lines defining the border between his existence and that of the surrounding landscape of his Highlands home.
Similarly in his work as a professional artist, there is a give-and- take relationship with the natural world. Darren derives inspiration from the environment to produce works that, in turn, shine a light on the preciousness of Australia’s unique landscapes and convey the intrinsic beauty of its inhabitants, including the creatures we tend to take for granted like the common magpie.
 From his light-filled studio, perched on a hilltop beside his home, Darren witnesses the everyday happenings and
seasonal cycles of the countryside in which he is embedded. It’s the perfect spot for an artist whose muse is Mother Nature. “The windows frame it,” Darren says of the view from the studio. “You don’t realise how gorgeous it is until you see it framed like that.” Inside the studio, there are remarkably detailed drawings of native birds in various stages of completion, from small preliminary pencilsketches through to large blackand-white ink works.

Up the hill a little way is an old shooters’ shack, which serves as the workshop for Darren’s metal sculpting. With its dim lighting, ramshackle appearance, and floor littered with hundreds of thousands of spent rivets, the workshop stands in stark contrast to the studio. And at first glance, the weathered metal sculptures surrounding the shed appear so different to the highly ordered ink drawings that it’s surprising they were crafted by the same pair of hands.

But, as Darren explains, the theme of Australia’s flora, fauna, and terrain are central to both the rustic metal artworks and the ultra-precise, monochrome depictions of wildlife.

“I’ve always been interested in Australia and its environment. My dad was an engineer, and he travelled for work, so we got to see a lot of the country and got a great appreciation for what it is. Australia gets ingrained in you, and won’t let you go – we’ve got the best wildlife in the world, and being here in the Highlands, we get to see a lot of it and the cycles it goes through.”

Through his and his family’s off-the-grid lifestyle, and their constant work towards self-sufficiency, Darren
finds another connection with our native fauna.

“Looking at animals in Australia, they have to be self sufficient, so there’s kind of a parallel between them and
us,” he says.

Darren also incorporates the environment into his artistic process in very direct ways. He uses one of the eucalypts that stands in front of his workshop to bend and shape pieces of metal, and he burns wood from fallen trees on his property to heat reclaimed corrugated iron from local buildings – a process producing effects that reflect the relative harshness of our climate.

“It’s a very Australian thing for things to weather and change colour and look like they’ve had a hard life,” he says.

“You get really nice, interesting textures, and you get the marbling effect when you burn the corrugated iron at a high temperature in the fire pit. It makes interesting shapes and patterns, which you can only get in Australia, going back to the patterns and shapes in the rocks, which are mirrored in my sculptures.”

Working on sculptures in the old shooters’ shack has also brought Darren much closer to the local fauna, in a very literal manner. “I’ve had some pretty good adventures in here with snakes and rabbits and mice and spiders – I love it,” he says with a chuckle.

Another thread that runs through both Darren’s ink drawings and sculptures is the golden mean, which is a mathematical formula developed by the Ancient Greeks. The golden mean often appears in patterns in nature, such as the spiral arrangement of leaves on certain plants or even the proportions of the human body. It has been studied voraciously by thinkers of all varieties – from philosophers to physicists – and it has held a special fascination for many artists because of its aesthetic appeal in composition.

The presence of the golden mean in many elements of Australia’s natural environment has captured Darren’s imagination, and his face lights up when he speaks about this overlap of these two driving forces in his artwork.

“Australian animals take that golden mean to the extreme, almost on the border of breaking it. I like that,” he says.

“All the shapes are here,” he adds, pointing to the view outside his studio. “You’ve got our big granite rocks, and if you look at the sculptures, you can see the similarity between the shapes and the rocks and back to the golden mean again.”

“That’s why my company is called Monkey Tail Design – because it’s represented by the fern frond, which spirals like the golden mean and looks like a monkey tail.”

Much like the cycles of nature Darren witnesses in his daily life in the Highlands, he has come full-circle with his art career. In his youth, he got a Bachelor of Visual Arts and Fine Arts under part scholarship at the
Queensland College of Art, but only took the plunge into becoming a full-time artist about ten years ago. In between, he did an apprenticeship as a pastry cook, studied graphic design, and worked as a graphic designer for 15 years.

It was actually a graphic design job that sparked Darren’s foray into metal sculpture.

“Someone asked me to do a photo shoot of the horoscope calendar when I was graphic designing. Pisces is represented by the two fish, so I used some of the corrugated iron that covered the shack (my workshop) to make the fish, and that’s where it all started. Metal’s now my chosen field.”

These days, Darren’s graphic design skills are put to good use creating the meticulous ink drawings, which can take well over a year to plan. Darren does detailed preliminary drawings then manipulates and scales them using graphic design software before beginning work on the final piece. It’s all part of the problem-solving process of design that Darren finds so intriguing and satisfying.

“I don’t see any difference between being an artist or an architect or a landscape designer or a waste management facilitator, it’s just problem solving, and it’s the way you solve that problem. The good thing about the arts is
solving that problem gives you a buzz,” he says

In his decade working as a full-time artist, Darren’s work has made its way into many homes and businesses around the Murrindindi Shire area, including Sedona Estate Winery in Murrindindi, Nice gift shop in Yea, the Delatite Hotel in Mansfield, and exhibitions at Rustic Simplicity in Alexandra.

A few of Darren’s pieces also live in his own backyard on the peaceful hilltop property in the Highlands; metal
sculptures by the veggie gardens outside his studio and among the trees surrounding his workshop, blending into the environment that inspired them and embodying Darren’s philosophy towards living with nature.

Upcoming Exhibition: October 2017 Town & Country Gallery Exhibition, Yarragon. For more information on Monkey Tail Design and Darren’s upcoming exhibitions go to:


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Story kindly supplied by Murrindindi Guide