I have never met Peter Corlett but his sculpture is very familiar to me, as they are to most people in Melbourne. Peter Corlett is responsible for so much of the sculpture in Melbourne. His sculptures have been with me since I first came to Melbourne. As a child I played with my younger siblings in the bubble of his Tarax Play Sculpture (1966-1968) at the NGV. I thought that it was a fun sculpture and I enjoyed its ultra-modern bubble look. I also remember his sculpture of a man in underwear at the NGV, Connoisseur 2 (1984), a cheeky irreverent image but I didn’t connect it with the abstract Tarax Play Sculpture. I see his fantasy sculptures (1992) that part of the architecture of the Melbourne Terrace building on the corner of Queen and Anthony and Franklin streets building every time I visit West Space and Michael Koro Gallery.
These architectural works marks a change in Corlett’s style. The mix of neo-classicalism and symbolism in the architectural works at Melbourne Terrace are conservative, although more extravagant in than his later bronze portraits work. The faux bronze patina on the concrete sculptures is a move towards his later bronze sculptures.
For the past two decades Peter Corlett specializes in bronze sculptural portraits. His portrait figures are all around Melbourne from Governor La Trobe (2006) out the front of the State Library to the statutes of former Victorian Premiers out the front of the State Government Buildings. There are more of his sculptures at the Docklands, the War Memorial and Trinity College at Melbourne University. There is even one modelled on one of my former housemates, Adrian Rawlins, Mr Poetry (1994) on Brunswick Street Fitzroy.
Peter Corlett’s sculptures have always been popular; it is the feature that links his Tarax Play Sculpture, the Connoisseur and his later sculptures His sculptures become more conservative, in both materials and style, from ferro-cement, resin and fibreglass to traditional bronze. The demands of commissions have made his sculptures more conservative. His sculptures no longer have his original playfulness and sexy curves because the political realities have changed in Melbourne. Sculpture is rarely radical or cheeky because it relies on commissions, especially for expensive large bronze sculptures. Peter Corlett seems to have received half the government commissions for Melbourne sculpture in the last two decades. He has received a lot of commissions for sculpture connected with war memorials. It is a demonstration of the continuing popularity of figurative sculpture in Melbourne but also the increasingly conservative politicians (both the Labor and Liberal parties). Melbourne has become more conservative and less playful in the decades around the turn of the millennium.
Peter Corlett’s Tarax Play Sculpture now is on long-term loan to the McCelland Gallery in Langwarrin, Victoria.
Article from the Age about Peter Corlett: “Thinking with fingertips” March 22 2003.