Shotgun artist Rae Saheli is taking aim at a unique brand of sculpture
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Rae Saheli has never felt more like herself than at this point in her life.
The emerging artist and sporting shooter is a medley of contradictions, from her black lace socks to her tailored leather shooting vest.
As she strides to a position at the Brisbane Gun Club, empty 12-gauge shotgun slung over her shoulder, she exudes a sense of calm.
Ear plugs in and sunglasses on, she loads a shell, raises her firearm and takes aim.
"Pull," she calls.
A fluorescent orange clay target spins into the air. Rae squeezes the trigger and the sound of a shot reverberates as the target shatters.
"I've been a competitive clay target shooter for 20 years," she explains.
"I have won shooting competitions — I have quite a few little ribbons.
"One of my joys this year was being able to represent in the ladies' team in the south-east zone of Queensland. That was a huge highlight for me — earning my shooting vest for that."
For decades, the mother of two boys worked in libraries and shaped surfboard fins.
But in recent years, when deeply held creative rumblings changed from a whisper to a roar, she decided to pursue a career in art.
So she picked up her brush and started painting.
"Technically I was painting right, but something just still didn't feel like me. Basically, I wouldn't hang any of those paintings in my house — I wouldn't exhibit them," she says.
Her Eureka moment came while studying at Murwillumbah TAFE.
"One of my teachers, Sandy, said to me, 'You need to be telling your own story — so what is it going to be?'" she says.
"And I thought hang on, I've been shooting all these years — why not combine my two loves; which are art and shooting?"
Rae began collecting different materials to shoot — sheets of copper and aluminium, textiles and paper — then approached friend and Brisbane Gun Club manager Jacinta Shand.
"I knew she was already into art. The concept of it was a little bit different — but I thought why not?" Jacinta says.
"She normally gets here early on a Saturday morning and I let her use the pattern board before we open."
Rae attaches metal sheets to the board and shoots at them from 15 to 20 metres away.
She repeatedly walks back and forth to check the progression of puckering and pockmarks on the metal — smooth and dimpled on one side, sharp and dangerous on the other.
When she first started, there were raised eyebrows from other shooters.
"Let's just say there were a few weird little looks," Rae says, smiling.
"But over time most of the shooters started helping me, asking, 'What shots are you going to use? Can we help you?'"
The shot materials are then bent and twisted into shape. Some of the creations are functional, such as lamp shades, jewellery and garden ornaments.
Others are purely sculptural like Space Between, her entry in this year's Swell Sculpture Festival at Currumbin Beach on the Gold Coast.
Large copper panels brutally peppered with shotgun pellets appear to delicately float between sand and sky — the metallic golden sheen changing colour with its exposure to the salt air and sun.
"As an artist, you don't want people just walking past your artwork. I want them either to love it, hate it, I'm not fussed. I want them to engage with it and have some kind of feeling towards it.
"So far with the exhibitions I've had, people have enjoyed it. It's tactile — people love to feel it. They love to be immersed with it."
On the beach for Swell, a woman walking past on the sand stops to take a closer look.
"I just adore it," she declares. "I love the concept of floating copper. I love the whole idea that she shot it with a gun."
Currumbin-based installation artist Clayton Blake, who has exhibited globally, says he is intrigued by Rae's process.
"I've been following Rae's art practice and the evolution of that practice … how something so violent and aggressive can become something so beautiful," he said.
Beauty is not a word her 15-year-old son William Saheli would use to describe her home studio.
"It's pretty cluttered downstairs — a lot of mess," he says.
"But it is cool."
His 11-year-old brother Nathan Saheli agrees.
"I actually think it's pretty creative," Nathan says.
"I probably wouldn't have thought of shooting at bits of metal and all that."
Rae laughs when asked what her family thinks of her endeavours.
"My family is very supportive but my husband at times, well, I probably drive him crazy," she said.
"I can use a 12-gauge shotgun but, hey — how do I use a drill?"
As far as Rae knows, there are no other artists like her in Australia, perhaps even the world.
She thinks there was some experimental shotgun art in the 1970s, but is unaware of anything more recent.
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And she wants it known she is not trying to spark a debate about gun culture.
"I'm educating people on the sport of shooting, which is my background.
"I'm not trying to make a political statement with that. All I'm wanting to do is create an artwork.
"What you see is someone who has a passion for shooting and a passion for art and being able to combine them both together — this is me."
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