Dion Horstmans: All or Nothing at All

“I definitely go. I go at life; I’m full on.” Dion Horstmans has an impressive work ethic for an artist. The Bondi based sculptor’s work has become increasingly renowned and recognizable over the last decade, both within Sydney and further abroad. While Dion sketches habitually, and has created a generous collection of various sculptural styles, it’s his powder coated steel shadow and line, lightning-like sculptures that are his signature and will be familiar for almost anyone inhabiting inner city Sydney and Melbourne.

“I’m at 110 per cent and that’s it, I’ve only got one speed,” he grins. “It’s all or nothing.” I first met Dion about four years ago, unloading a bale of steel sculptures off the back of his oversized, roaring 1984 F100 pick up. I was his gallerist, and we were installing Night Rider – a captivating series of work that just about sold out within the first hour of opening. Towering, loud, bearded and beaming, Dion is easily akin to that thunderous truck. After Night Rider, there were three or so more successful, striking exhibitions, on rooftops and in stairwells, featuring sculptures of various scale and sizes, as well as intriguing collaborative presentations with other local artists. His all-in attitude, high-energy and unequivocal approach reverberated from the gallery walls at each exhibition – a welcome presence within the often all too serious art world.

Dion has exhibited at Sculpture by the Sea atop the cliffs of Tamarama, as well as at Cottesloe in Perth, and the Danish version on the eastern shore of Aarhus. He has worked alongside SJB Architects, Hassel Studio and Bate Smart to produce dramatic scale, public iterations of his cutting, geometric style from Bondi to Collins Street in Melbourne’s CBD. With titles like Voltage, Super Sonic, and Light Speed, Dion’s artwork might only be defined as fast, momentous and charismatic.

As for where life as an artist began, he explains, “I’ve probably drawn since I could hold a pencil; [art] was something I could relate to very easily.” Dion grew up in Wellington in New Zealand, and after a brief stint art school, decided he fancied the education of the open road. He travelled regularly, and anywhere and everywhere he could, eventually landing in Australia at the age of 20. “In 1996 I got a job in the film industry, and from there things accelerated pretty quickly.” While working within the props department, Dion learned to craft all manner of things, and to produce them all really, really quickly.

Yet despite the whirlwind pace he is well known for, the beachside residence Dion shares with wife Grace Barnes-Horstmans is an oasis of calm. Filled with warm coastal light, and layered with collected ornaments and the artwork of his peers, the second-storey art deco flat reveals a more relaxed, but still thoroughly creative and passionate side to the artist. “There are two stereos and a lot of music,” Dion says, pointing out his expansive, growing vinyl collection. “There’s no TV. There are a lot of books.”

Dion and Grace are constantly collecting, so treasures, ornaments and art are on regular rotation in each room. The resulting style is eclectic in the truest sense of the word. “There’s no rhyme or reason, everything is quite random,” Dion explains. “It’s tribal, or it’s highly finished, or it’s an incredible tree root that’s been ripped out of the ground. But then everything does have a kind of meaning and reference to Grace, or me, or for both of us.” 

On the walls are works from locals (and friends) Derek Henderson, Stephen Ormandy, Phil James and Garry Heery. When we visit, Dion has just fitted a reworked mid-century modern sideboard in the dining room, which now features a set of steel legs in Dion’s signature geometric style, giving it the appearance of floating.

When asked to pinpoint a favourite piece in his home, Dion pauses for a rare moment. “Everything because that’s why it’s in the house. Although my most favourite thing right now is my new Darth Vader alarm clock,” he smiles. “It’s cool. I wanted an alarm clock because I didn’t want to sleep next to my phone. Gracie is a yoga teacher, we eat organic food, and we drink alkaline water, we train a lot, we don’t have a microwave. I turn everything off at night.”

And though this may sound like a recipe for the stereotypical Bondi lifestyle, Dion and Grace exist on the periphery, absolutely local but still unsubscribed to the scene. “Bondi for me is the beach. If you asked me what Bondi’s best kept secrets are, I’d direct you to the grassy knoll at the end of the beach because I never go there. I’d direct you to The Bucket List because I never go there. I don’t want you to go to the places that I go to because they’re quiet and they’re intimate.”

Dion’s Marrickville studio is a solid half hours ride in the pick up truck (or his white 1964 Pontiac Parisian with red leather interior), and it’s there that he is at full pelt for about nine hours of every day. “I got taught by a step father when I was really young that the more you put into life, the more you are going to get out of it. That’s what drives me the whole time. It’s why I go to the work shop every day and I create, and if I can’t create I’ll clean up and sweep the floor.”

“If I get up in the morning and just go straight to work, I don’t get sidetracked,” he adds. It seems for the artist, life and work are separate forces, separate speeds – a necessary push and pull between fast and slow, action and distraction. “The beach, and the Pacific Ocean, and the sand down there, it’s all really kind of intoxicating. It’s constantly beckoning me.”

This piece appeared in print for Habitus Magazine January 2017. 

Image, Dion Horstmans by Alana Dimou.