Tag Archives: bronze sculpture

West End Public Art

Melbourne’s west end is dominated by courts, the lawyers offices, the associated lunch and coffee places; it is not an area of the city that I regularly explore as both street art and art galleries are rare in the area. However, this year I have been in the area as I have been covering the Paul Yore trial. I did find some street art off Healeys Lane, a large stencil work by E.L.K. and some paste-ups by Sunfigo and there are a few public sculptures by Paul Montford, Andrew Rodgers, Tom Bass and Robert Juniper.

E.L.K., You are free...

E.L.K., You are free…

Flagstaff Gardens is like a suburban park in the city, the children’s playground, the adult’s playground (tennis courts and bowls), the residual base of small bandstand and the expanse of lawn. Its hill no longer affords much of a view but there is a Gothic revival sandstone obelisk monument to estimated six pioneers who were buried at its summit,  in 1871 the Department of Public Works then commissioned Samuel Craven, one of the stonemasons who campaigned for an eight hour day, to carve a memorial to mark the site of what was once called Burial Hill. Paul Montford’s bronze sculpture The Court Favourite stands further down the hill near the tennis courts.

Andrew Rodgers, City Living, 1996

Andrew Rogers, City Living, 1996

Andrew Rogers City Living, 1996 is a series of bronze figures of naked men, women and a baby rising up on hemisphere fans of bronze are up on a plinth. It is a kind of modern vision of escaping to an abstract spirit. Central Equity Homes commissioned the sculpture in June 1995 and donated it to the city in 1996. The sculpture is sort of hidden away a little way down Jeffcott Street; I saw it from the hill of Flagstaff Gardens.

Andrew Rogers, Rhythms of the Metropolis,

Andrew Rogers, Rhythms of the Metropolis,

There is another sculpture by Rogers nearby on the Queen and Lt. Bourke Streets, Rhythms of the Metropolis and more recent sculptures by him in the Docklands. Roger has a diverse sculptural practice from these modern bronzes to his gigantic dry stone wall land-art in desert locations around the world, his “geoglyphs”.

Tom Bass, Transportation, 1963-64

Tom Bass, Transportation, 1963-64

High on the wall of 160 Queen Street is Transportation 1963-64 by Sydney sculptor, Tom Bass. The figure with aeroplane wings stands in a boat triumphantly holds aloft a wheel, perhaps representing modern transportation. The form of the figure resembles a secular crucifix, this is modernism looking back to the ancient ways of representing ideas. In the niche beneath the sculpture is a small circle of benches and wheelchair ramp.

Robert Juniper, “Shadow Form III", 1988

Robert Juniper, “Shadow Form III”, 1988

BHP House at 140 William St. was constructed between 1967 – 1972 and added Robert Juniper’s Shadow Form III out the front in 1988. Shadow Form is steel simplified organic form, a clump of steel plants amidst the glass and steel canyons of Melbourne’s central business district. The steel sculpture is appropriate for a steel framed building and for the former headquarters of the steel producer. The plinth provides seating mostly used by office workers eating their lunch.

What once was the centre of the city in the colonial days when the city’s focus was on the port and there was a flagstaff in Flagstaff Gardens. Now the old colonial stone buildings like the Langdon Buildings from 1863 abut modern buildings of glass and steel. The life has been slowly drained from the area. Melbourne has since looked south, north and east and real estate agents describe the area as ‘on Melbourne’s doorstep’ in billboard advertising for empty office buildings. There is the city’s first cathedral, St. James from 1839 with it odd octagonal top to the spire, surrounded by an old iron fence (although it would be a mistake to image that this is its original location, it was moved there in 1913-14). Further down the road there are the three spires of the theatre restaurant, Witches in Britches.


The Court Favourite

Paul Montford’s sculpture, The Court Favourite (also known as: The Prince) captures the action of a lithe young man playing with a boisterous pet leopard cub. In his right hand the youth, Montford described him as a “Young Indian”, clasps a decorated baton with a carved elephant head handle is. The cub crouches low and tugs fiercely at the youth’s cloak.

Paul Montford, Court Favourite, c.1906

Paul Montford, Court Favourite, c.1906

The leopard was modelled on a leopard at London Zoo, this would not be the last time that Montford used zoo animals as models using a goat and lion from Melbourne Zoo as models for his architectural decorations on the Shrine of Remembrance.

The Court Favourite was first exhibited in 1906 at the Royal Academy in London but not in a bronze edition that would have to wait until Montford and his family had immigrated to Australia in 1923. The sculpture was not cast locally as there were no specialist sculpture foundry in Australia at the time and the model was sent back to Europe to be cast. (He is a well travelled lad with a touch of Orientalism.) Montford believed that the heavy casting of the sculpture made it less likely to be vandalised, still he imagined that young men might want to break parts off especially the baton. It was cast by Foundry A.B. Burton, cast 1929, a foundry notable for casting large sculptures for notable 19th century sculptures. Montford in a letter (June, 1929) to his brother, Louis Montford notes that he sent Burton £90 for the casting and complaining that he couldn’t get an advance from Baron Marks.

In 1930 Councillor Baron Marks presented Montford’s The Court Favourite to the Melbourne City Council in memory of his brother, Jacob Marks. (Was this Alderman Jacob Marks, President of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation from 1897 to 1901 and 1907 to 1908?) Baron Marks was a keen amateur sportsman and the President of the St. Kilda Sports Club. He had purchased the sculpture a few years earlier for £400; £100 less than the price paid by the Melbourne City Council for Montford’s The Water Nymph.

Paul Montford, The Water Nypmh, 1910

Paul Montford, The Water Nypmh, 1910

Wednesday 5th Feb 1930 Montford, in another letter to his brother Louis, records the unveiling. “Today is a hot day… I had no waistcoat on which same is not done in best circles. They didn’t know it, but they were lucky I didn’t show up in pyjamas – Oh! the occasion was the unveiling of the The Court Favourite in Flagstaff gardens just the other side of the city. Marian & I went over by car and enjoyed it all very much. Everybody patted everybody’s back, including mine, and in return I patted my own. When all was over we retired to the Mayors Room at the Town Hall where we did it all again, only more so. Now I hope I shall get paid – I haven’t had a penny yet.”

“Which is the favourite, the slave-boy or panther?” asked the Herald (Thursday 6 Feb 1930) and then narrates: “Spoiled, pampered and flattered, the panther rules the Court, symbol of the human master as fierce, as ruthless, as cruel as itself. The slave dare not use his whip, his smile is as sycophantic as that of the rest, as the patter has his will, today in play, tomorrow – in what sort?”

I want to describe this sculpture as ‘high camp’ but the Edwardian minds for which it was created for now seem utterly alien in their attitudes. Montford’s The Court Favourite still stands in the shade of mature elm trees in Melbourne’s oldest public gardens, Flagstaff Gardens established in 1862. There are many sculpture by Montford around Melbourne for more see my post Montford in Melbourne or Catherine Moriarty Making Melbourne’s Monuments – the sculpture of Paul Mondford (Australian Scholarly, 2013) where I have sourced all the quotes in this post.


Courage

In Whitlam Place, a small park in Fitzroy on the corner of Moor and Napier Streets, just across the road from Fitzroy Town Hall there is a new sculpture Courage by William Eicholtz. It was just installed last week.

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Standing on a lighted disco floor, lit by LED lights after dark, the young man is removing the Cowardly Lion costume and looking back at a theatrical medal for ‘courage’. What does the medal mean to him?

The sculpture captures the neo-baroque moment of transformation, being aware that the whole world is changing their costumes. There is so much movement in this sculpture, the costume is falling, the man’s torso is twisting and the lion’s tail curls, it makes other statues look static. The sculpture also has the baroque qualities of a sense of the dramatic that adds to it’s polemical content.

Eicholtz is already a notable sculptor winning the 2005 Helen Lempriere Outdoor Sculpture Award,  the biggest art prize for sculpture in Australia; it is like winning the Archibald for a portrait painter. He has long yearned to have a permanent public sculpture in Melbourne; he told the public in an excellent floor talk at the Counihan Gallery on February 2, 2008 as part of the exhibition, Chaos & Revelry. Eichotz’s vision for the urban/suburban environment that most excited his audience; a playful vision of a world where art exists throughout the built environment, a world where humans live in more than just well designed environments.

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“This sculpture will commemorate and recognise the LGBTI and queer communities’ courage to be themselves.” Eicholtz told Matt Akersten reporting for Same Same.  The bronze plaque on the plinth records that it is “also dedicated to the legacy of Ralph McLean (1957-210) was Australia’s first openly gay Lord Mayor (City of Fitzroy, 1984)”. Public recognition in the form of a public sculpture is important to many the communities who were marginalised and ignored in Melbourne while the conservative establishment was erecting statues for themselves. A public sculpture serves as a permanent public reminder of their presence in the collective consciousness of the city.

(Incidentally Frank Baum the first children’s writer to have a transexual main character Tip/Ozma of Oz in 1904.)

Not that the sculpture is just for Melbourne’s LGBTI community. The figurative sculpture humanises the area bringing the suggestion of movement and life to the park and making a corner into a hub. As I am photographing it a mother with a little girl in a stroller pass: “The Cowardly Lion,” the mother says, “A man taking off the Cowardly Lion costume.”

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Hobart Public Sculpture

I went on a weekend visit to Hobart to see MONA and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. Hobart is an attractive city to walk around even with the cold of earth spring. I couldn’t avoid seeing the public sculpture as I walked around the harbour. “Public art and artists can make a valuable contribution to the built and natural environment by celebrating, marking and revealing aspects of a community, its history, its character and its aspirations. A strong sense of place, identity and community invariably makes Hobart attractive to live in, work in and to visit.” (Hobart City Council website)

I enjoyed walking through Battery Point, the Salamanca Market (lots of woodcarving and woodcraft) and the Salamanca Arts Centre Precinct and along the harbour to the Tasmanian University Arts Centre. Along the way I saw a number of public sculptures along with other pieces of public art and design – gates, decorative paving and monuments. There was nothing out of place although some of it appeared a bit over the top, in particular the sculpture of Stephen Walker.

Stephen Walker was born in Balwyn, Victoria in 1927 and studied art at Melbourne Teachers College from 1945 to 47. Walker’s sculptures are over the top, neo-baroque spectacles; there are too many elements and too much going on. There are long explanations on bronze panels about the sculptures. Bronze is used to as much as possible and it is not surprising that Walker lives and works at his sculptor’s foundry at Campania, Tasmania.

Stephen Walker, Heading South, 2002, bronze

Walker’s “The Bernacchi Tribute: Self Portrait, Louis and Joe”, 1998 and 2002, is a series of bronze sculptures located between Victoria Dock and Macquarie Wharf. There is so much going on in this sculpture; it even has two names and two plaques. It started as bronze seal and penguins and then after a bronze camera on a bronze tripod, a bronze explorer, bronze skis, bronze dogs become “The Bernacchi Tribute” but somewhere along the way picked up the title, “Heading South”. Walker has himself made two voyages to the Antarctic in 1984 and 1986.

I preferred Walker’s more abstract “Tidal Pools,” 1970; the bronze fountain now in Mawson Place, Hobart but I never got a close look at it in its new location due to the traffic. “Tidal Pools was commissioned by the Bank of New South Wales, later Westpac, in the early 1980s. It originally stood in Sydney’s Martin Place. In 2000, when the bank extended its building, it donated $100,000 to dismantle the bronze sculpture and transport and install it as a gift from Westpac to Hobart.” (Nick Clark The Mercury 7/4/10)

Stephen Walker, “Tasman Fountain”, 1988, bronze, concrete, granite

I did take a close look at Walker’s “Tasman Fountain” 1988 or is it “Journey to Southland”, in Salamanca Place between Gladstone Street and Montpelier Retreat. It is one of the most over the top works of public sculpture that I have seen. In a circle with a rough-hewn plinth of white rock showing the Southern Cross in bronze is partially surrounded by a white concrete fountain with three bronze ships sailing in it. On the other side stands a full size bronze figure of Able Tasman – again so much bronze.

There is more to public sculpture in Hobart than the just the sculptures of Stephen Walker but they are bronze heavy weights.


Big Cat Controversy

A giant 3m bronze cat by Melbourne-based sculptor Dean Bowen at the Wyndham Vale Community Learning Centre has become a petty controversy because of costs.

It is such an easy political beat up for a local councillor to complain about the cost of a recent sculpture. It is the same kind of petty council politics that plagued “Vault” (aka “The Yellow Peril”) and other public sculptures. It is such an easy controversy to run in the media because most people don’t buy sculpture so they have no idea of realistic costs. It is easy because there is never a break down of the costs, just a big lump sum. It is easy because there is no comparison to other budget items. It is so easy that any local councillor who pulls this kind of stunt is the kind of stupid scum of the earth who should be replaced at the next election. And an intelligent journalist should spike such a story or get more facts.

Look at the facts not the lump sum. Wyndham Council has a policy of spending 1% of public building budgets on the arts. It is a policy that is employed by Melbourne’s Docklands and many other organizations. (See my blog post: Docklands 1% Sculpture)

The money for the sculpture is not simply going in the pocket of the sculptor. The costs for a sculpture quickly add up. Foundries can take anywhere from 15 to 60 per cent of an artist’s budget for a sculpture depending on how much casting is involved. Bronze ($5 per kilo for scrap bronze) and a large block of marble for the base are not cheap. Transportation and installation of the heavy statue and the plinth is another cost that the public might not expect.

The use of the foreign labour to sculpt most of the Queen Victoria monument (1907) ruined the reputation of its sculptor, James White (1861-1918). White was in a bind as he depended on the skill of the Italian stone carvers to work the Carrara marble for the multiple figures on the large monument. Now that’s a real political controversy about a sculpture considering how strong both nationalism and the local stonemason’s union was at the time.

When the public can get over the petty politics of cost we can move on to discuss the artistic merit of this quirky cat sculpture.


Casting Sculpture in Melbourne

A foundry is needed to cast bronze sculpture. The industrial side of casting and erecting monuments should be considered on an equal importance to the sculptor. On the base of the Francis Ormond memorial there are words “cast by Robison Bros. Ltd.” on one side), and the sculptor’s name, Percival Ball on the other.

Robison Bros. had every reason to be proud of their work the statue as was the first full-scale figure cast in bronze in Melbourne. Prior to this all bronze statues had to be imported, although they might be assembled and finished locally, as in the case of Judge Redman Barry that was started by James Gilbert in England finished locally by Percival Ball.

Two Scottish brothers, James and Thomas Robison from Leith along with a third Scot, Henry Dodds, founded Robison Bros & Co. in 1854. They started as plumbers and coppersmiths but the firm soon expanded to became Melbourne’s most important engineering firm. Along with industrial manufacture and engineering the company went on to cast the Burke and Wills memorials. Robison Bros & Co. finally closed in1973.

The first casting of a bronze statue in Melbourne did not mark the end of bronze sculptures for Melbourne being cast in Europe. Casting Australian sculptures in Europe continued well into the 20th Century, even with the time it took to ship the part back and forth between Australia and Europe – in some cases this added years to completing the sculpture. Over a decade in the case of memorial to Sir John Monash: in 1937 William Bowles won the competition to create a memorial and the bronze statue was cast in Italy prior to the outbreak of WWII but only finally completed and installed in 1950.

Bronze casting uses the lost wax technique, or more correctly lost-wax casting, for it is the wax that is lost and not a lost technique which is in continual use for centuries. Often for a life size or larger figure the clay model is divided into six or eight pieces and after casting the pieces are welded back together. At each stage in the process of casting and reassembling there is a degree of remodelling of the sculpture.

“Foundries can take anywhere from 15 to 60 per cent of sculptures budget, depending on how much casting is involved.” Louise Bellamy “Sculptors and a cast of thousands” (The Age 3/9/2005)

There are currently three foundries specializing in sculpture in Melbourne: Meridian Sculpture Founders, Coates & Wood Sculpture Foundry and Perrin Sculpture Foundry.

In Fitzroy there is Meridian Sculpture Founders. Peter Morely started Meridan in 1973, the same year that Robinson Brothers shut down. (Was Meridian named after the Meridian Bronze Company in England?) Notably artists that Meridian casts for includes Louis Laumen, Peter Corlett, Peter Schipperheyn, Lisa Roet, Ron Robertson-Swann and Maria Kuczynska.

In Northcote Coates & Wood Sculpture Foundry casts for partner Ewen Coates, Inge King, Adrian Mauriks, Pauline Clayton, Peter Blizzard, William Eicholtz and others.

Perrin Sculpture Foundry in Cheltenham casts for Rick Amor and Sister Gail O’Leary, a Melbourne-based religious sculptor.

The Francis Ormond memorial at RMIT is Melbourne’s first locally cast bronze statue.


Shane Warne Bronzed

It was a big day for Melbourne’s public sculpture, a sunny summer morning at the MCG on Thursday the 22nd of December, 2011 – I wasn’t there I was watching the live broadcast of the event on the ABC News 24.

There were speeches from the Australia Post sponsors and the former cricket captain, Mark Taylor. The speeches were about Shane Warne being “immortalized in bronze” and joining the other statues of Australian sporting heroes at the MCG. After the statue was unveiled Shane Warne made a speech. Speculating on the bowling action of the statue Warne said: “ it looks like a leg break”.

In all the speeches there was no mention of the sculptor but this is typical fate for sculptors, like architects are often anonymous. This is because a sculptor, like an architect, cannot work alone; they need commissions and must work within the tight constraints imposed by those commissions.

The larger than life statue of Shane Warne is by Melbourne sculptor, Louis Lauman who has made all the statues around the MCG. Louis Lauman was born in the Netherlands in 1958 and immigrated to Australia with his family two years later. When he isn’t modelling statues in clay, he works as a technician at Meridian Sculpture Founders and lectures in sculpture at RMIT. Lauman has made many sports statues, religious statues, war memorial statues and the ‘Magic Pudding’ sculpture at the Children’s Garden in Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.

The new statue is located at Gate 2 of the MCG. It is part of the Australia Post Avenue of Legends series. Australia Post has agreed to sponsor five statues for in Yarra Park over the next five years. (See my post about the other sports themed sculptures in Melbourne: Sporting Heroes).

Sporting sculpture in Melbourne continues to reflect the classical ideals of classical Greek sculpture. The point of classical Greek sculpture was to create memorials to idolized individuals, like athletes. Lauman is aware that the contemporary art world “loathes my sort of work; it has a visceral hatred of it. It took me a decade to make my mark and I realised that if I wanted to do this, I’d have to give something up, and I gave up the gallery circuit a long time ago.” I must admit that I don’t admire Lauman’s statues but I loath Shane Warne more.


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