“SAND is solid,” says sand sculptor, Ricardo Alves-Ferreira. “The trick is to make it look ethereal.” And over days and even weeks he wields a variety of tiny palette knives, smoothing, cutting, rendering, carving tonnes of wet sand to achieve just that result.
Ricardo’s route to the Bass Coast was round about. His Portuguese parents migrated to Argentina in the late 50s. Ricardo was born there in the early 60s. At 21, facing a choice between a renewed commitment to the navy or a life in the world, he chose the world. The Falklands War broke out soon afterwards. In New Zealand, where he had joined his brothers, the war was a partisan affair. You were either for or against. Ricardo just felt sad. “I had friends who were still there.”
Later in the same year he came to Australia to join his sister, bringing his parents and youngest sister from Argentina. It was like a family reunion. With no extended family – just his two parents and five siblings – it was easy to follow each other around the globe.
Fifteen years of city life followed, “living pretty full on”. He danced with the contemporary dance company, the Pirra Dance Ensemble, for 15 years, touring schools and universities here and in the US. In the last five years they focussed on Latin dancing, featuring prominently in the Johnson Street Fiesta in Melbourne. He laughs. “We certainly squeezed the juice out of that company!”
Sand sculpture by Ricardo Alves-Ferreira
He was also on the committee of Passion Latina, an organisation that helped women migrants feel welcome and helped them integrate into the community by giving their art and craft exposure. Passion Latina’s injection of real Carnival spirit became an important part of Moomba, Ricardo says: it featured a lot of exposed flesh, vivid colour, masses of ostrich feathers and lots of moving body parts. Authentic Latin.
Fifteen years ago he came to the Bass Coast, working for the council as the customer services manager. After a heart attack, aged 37, he retrained as a diversional therapist. For the last 13 years he has worked at Wonthaggi Hospital’s Garnham House with seniors and people with acquired brain injury helping them to maintain the skills they are losing.
In the meantime, having started a fine arts diploma here at Chisholm TAFE he tried his hand at a sand sculpture competition over at Rye. He’d done some stone carving before but sand was very different from stone. He surprised himself by coming second against experienced sand sculptors. He was immediately offered three months employment as a resident sculptor in Caloundra. They were three months of intense learning. “While I was running workshops with the children on the beach, I learnt how far I could push the sand” he says. He’d found his medium.
Since then he’s spent 12 years travelling the world as a roving sculptor. He arrives in a city and joins a team of individuals like himself who become, for the life of the project, a professional unit whose sole purpose is to produce a fantastic piece of sand sculpture. Celebrities for the duration, they eat together, make press appearances together, are accommodated together. In exchange, they work for 10 hours every day for two weeks to produce a miracle in sand.
The biggest sculpture he was ever involved in was a work in Turkey called One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. “We carved 137 characters out of 8000 tons of sand. It took 30 days with 42 sculptors.”
His artistry flows from different gifts. His photographic memory means he can hold an image in his mind – “when you study art you learn to look at things” – and then arrange his composition creatively. When he works in a team, he could be the only artist in a team of architects. “They can reproduce beautiful buildings. I can create things.”
And then there’s the surgical precision. It’s having the “right pulse,” he says; learning to arrange your body so that it supports itself and frees your arm. That allows you to produce a very fine carving line. With one tiny sweep of your arm you can ‘block’ the undulations of the body of a bird.
Ricardo Alves-Ferreira is the product of his many migrations. “I’m a third-culture kid,” he says. There’s the outgoing, tactile, flamboyant nature of his Latin personality, and his European reserve. He needs to integrate two other cultures into a third. Travelling every year seems to fill that need in him. “But even though I travel every year for at least two months of the year and visit about six countries, I always feel I’m coming home when I return to Australia ... to the luxury of the space we have. It’s our greatest treasure. The sky is so big here.”
But there’s a paradox, he says. He became an Australian citizen because he wanted to belong here. “I’ve lived most of my life here, the best of my life. This is why I call it home.” But he doesn’t look Australian and he doesn’t think people perceive him as Australian. “And in Portugal they called me a migrant. Not even they wanted to claim me. It surprised me that they would want to differentiate in that way, to give me a label so they could fit me somewhere.”
But he’s at peace with this odd sense of in betweenness. Perhaps it’s something like having the right pulse. “I just move in the world,” he says.
Watch Ricardo working on a massive sand sculpture at the Inverloch Library to mark the end of the National Year of Reading. Children can have a go themselves from 10.30-11.30am on Friday, Nov 16. RSVP to Carol Harper,
Ph 5622 2849 or firstname.lastname@example.org.