CHILDHOOD - MORNING by Chen Wenling, China.

Perth's Cottesloe Beach is transformed into a giant open-air gallery. By Trish Ainslie

ENTOMOPHILLY by Melanie Maclou, WA.
DREAM CLOUD by Kathy Allam, WA
DUMP by Paul Caporn, WA
Cottesloe Beach. This is the eighth annual exhibition of 'Sculpture by the Sea' held in the west. Cottesloe Beach is transformed into a giant open-air gallery displaying the works of over 70 artists.
THE NEW COVENANT by Matthew McVeigh, WA
THOUGHT PROCESS by Tania Spencer, WA
MEETING by Wang Shugang, China

The soft, green grass slopes down to the languid curve of a white, sandy beach. The area is studded with sculptures. The variety is astonishing. Cottesloe Beach, in Perth's western suburbs, has been transformed into a giant open-air gallery, and is now displaying the works of over 70 artists.

The petals, brilliant red, of an enormous flower, pierce the indigo sky. Suspended from gnarled branches, a delicate honey-coloured spider web sways gently in the breeze. Acrobats balance against the backdrop of a soft, blue sea. A large tap pours water, silver, into a glimmering pool in the sand. In the shade of the iconic Norfolk Pines, a group of men, painted bronze, squat huddled in meeting. On boulders at the end of the breakwater a kaleidoscopic lighthouse is positioned, there to warn and protect. Harlequin figures leap, their shadows emulating their game of ball. The setting sun transforms a silver crest into molten gold as surfers catch the last wave of the day framed by an arch of holographic-etched Perspex set in two shopping trolleys.

This is Cottesloe's eighth annual exhibition of 'Sculpture by the Sea'. On display are the works of 30 local artists, 20 interstate artists and 20 internationals, the latter hailing from China, Denmark, Finland, France, Iceland, Italy, Japan and USA.

While the participation of so many international artists is an important element of the show, so too is the opportunity it gives local artists to showcase their work alongside sculptures produced by those of international acclaim. It also provides the opportunity for local artists to display their works in exhibitions overseas - but the event has become much more than this...

The 'one-day wonder' held on Bondi Beach back in 1997 - the inaugural Sculpture by the Sea - was the brainchild of David Handley, who started it as an initiative to give sculpture some much-needed exposure. It was staffed by friends and volunteers and it ran from dawn to dusk.

The positive energy and inspiration from that initial exhibition has - with considerable time and effort - become Australia's most successful art exhibition, at least in terms of attendance, and one organised and run by a highly professional team.

The imagination of the public has certainly been captured by this unique and creative display. Annually and now for up to three weeks, two of Australia's best-loved beaches on opposite sides of the continent - Cottesloe and also Sydney's Bondi - are transformed into extraordinary outdoor studios, their works displayed against the spectacular backdrop of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

The Bondi exhibition now runs for three weeks and attendance has grown to around 500,000 people. Signs are equally as encouraging for the Cottesloe show, with attendance at this year's event - held from March 1 to 19 - up from 215,000 to 250,000. The 16th annual Sculpture by the Sea returns to the stunning Bondi Beach to Tamarama Beach coastal walk over October 18 to November 4 this year, with a 2km stretch set to host over 100 works.

Any artist, regardless of background or nationality, may submit their work for consideration in Sculpture by the Sea.

Evening joggers wend their way through the crowd, still heavy at dusk, and I watch as families, having explored the gallery, take their place on the grassy slopes for a picnic. I can't think of a better forum for art. It's there for everyone.