Sunday, 17 July 2016

The Iron Man of Chateaudouble

Bush duo - trumpet and drums. The only thing we don't have is the jazz.
Châteaudouble is a stunning little perched village 26kms north of Les Arcs-sur-Argens that overlooks steep gorges which once had a part to play in the mythological dragon that is thought to have once inhabited the area.
The Saracen tower high above the village.
Climbing the high, twisty road up to the village – and through a tunnel blasted out of a sheer rock wall – you are rewarded by an incredible view.

But even more incredible, is the one found hidden behind the square Saracen tower high above the village.

A hand-made sign points you along a short, overgrown track to a fantastical sculpture garden.

A blue milk churn – like the ones that delivered milk to the billy can my mother left on the front verandah each day when I was a child – marks the entrance and proclaims its welcome to visitors in a range of languages and an easily understandable ‘entrée libre’ that entices you inside.

Except you don’t go inside. This sculpture garden is totally ‘en plein air’. Even the sculptor – known by the single name as ‘Za’ – works outside.

As you walk up to the small, treed space on the St Anne plateau that is his studio, you become conscious of the weird personages around you – an old pair of pliers perched birdlike on a branch; a bicycle built for two with upturned flat irons for side-by-side seating; a female figure with overhead fan blades for a skirt and ancient keys forming her spread-out toes.

‘Za’ himself is a cross between a twinkling-eyed Father Christmas and a retired bikie, with his grey moustache drooping either side of his mouth, a long grey ponytail tumbling down his back, bright red braces and an oil-smeared white apron.
Monsieur 'Za' behind his workbench.

He is already addressing a group of French tourists, explaining his works and the reasons behind them. He looks up and calls out ‘Bonjour’ to us, but we don’t join in. He’s mid-spiel, so we explore his ‘park’ full of recycled metal objects from households, cars, factories, farms and gardens.
I spot an old Singer sewing machine and the drum of a washing machine.

Over there is a tractor seat, pieces of car engines, old pulley wheels, some garden trowels and a kitchen strainer – all re-fashioned into figures or objects completely divorced from their original purpose.

Monsieur Za finishes his explanation and the French tourists begin to look around his exhibition.

He comes over to us and finds out we are Australians. He calls out to everyone, ‘Attention ! Ils sont Australiens !’, and the rest of the browsers turn to us and smile.

I fall in love with his enthusiasm for his work. He is so passionate about it and enjoys creating works that gently make fun of our way of life. He points out a couple – basically pieces of rusting iron – sitting delicately on a bench, ‘They are discussing politics, religion,’ he tells us, and laughs.
Not sure what this is called - maybe two cats?
He makes us guess at some of his creations. We point out pieces of discarded metal that we recognise.

He tells us how much he admires the artwork of the Australian Aborigines.
'I taught myself to throw a boomerang from Youtube,’ he adds proudly. ‘I’ve been throwing a boomerang for six years now. They always come back.’

Monsieur Za enjoys giving a second life to abandoned metal objects. He says that he visited Cameroon some years ago and marvelled at the way they recycled metal, repaired and restored broken engines and implements. I don’t mention our television series on ‘Bush Mechanics’, but I understand his feelings are much the same.

He is also influenced by the ingenuity of master blacksmiths – the work of sculptor, Jean Tinguely, and the mobiles of Alexandre Calder.

A recycled bicycle complete with miniature cyclist.
We could have spoken to him a lot longer, but some new tourists were arriving and he started wiping his hands down his apron, as if preparing his next ‘introduction’.

We made our farewells, but will return to see him again one day.
His studio, ‘Za Sculpteur Métal’, is open all year apart from his own annual vacation (though I’d hate to make the drive up to Châteaudouble in winter with ice and snow on the roads).





  1. Thanks for sharing your forays into the life and landscapes of France - love it.

  2. 'ZA' was so enthusiastic about his craft, he made me want to pick up a spanner and make it into something else!

  3. You can see these playful structures as street decoration throughout France. I love them! They inject a sense of happiness into the surroundings.

  4. I like to see the 're-use' part of recycling, especially with a bit of creativity.