Tag Archives: bronze sculpture

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.


The Atlas Intervention

Raymond Gill in the Age (November 13, 2011) asked six curators who they considered to be the top 10 artists who “are continually pushing boundaries, investigating new methods, forging new forms of expression, influencing their peers and shaping the way artists, curators and audiences might look at art in the coming decades?”

CDH "Atlas" November 2011

Gill didn’t ask me who I would include in this list. I don’t mind; I’m one of the least influential people in Melbourne’s art world. But if I had been asked one artist that I certainly would have included is CDH, simply as a way to introduce my second blog post for the year about his art. Normally I don’t write more than one blog post about an artist as there are so many artists, galleries and other events to repeatedly write about one artists. So wanting to write a second blog post this year is an indication of CDH’s significance.

I meet up with CDH for lunch in the city at a burger bar – the day that the Age reported about his “Atlas” intervention.

CDH’s “Atlas” urban intervention with John Robinson’s ‘The Pathfinder’ is a significant work of unauthorized street art. The statue opposite the NGV in the Queen Victoria Gardens has been neglected for twenty years. The repetitive theft of the hammer that simply unscrewed made it impossible to maintain. CDH’s planning and the bravado of the daylight execution, disguised in a bright safety vest, was perfect and the result is an amazing transformation. CDH reverses the theft of the hammer with a replacement.

It was a big risk that might have gone wrong if the globe had been removed a day or so after the intervention. “Street art is generally cheap and is produced in multiples but I invested a lot into this.” CDH told me and then explained the time and money that he’d put into the project. Adding welding to his skill set and improving his angle grinding skills in the process. The globe had to be manufactured in China and imported to Australia. CDH said that he would have liked to have had the globe fabricated locally but could get Australian manufacturing.

How long will CDH’s intervention last? What will the official reaction will be? The tourists wandering around the Queen Victoria Garden today certainly appreciated the intervention. They also told me about the tagging of other sculptures in the garden. The intervention challenges the notion of vandalism because it is gift repair.

”Atlas” was “bestowed up the people of the City of Melbourne by courtesy of Rio Tinto and CDH” (according to the plaque that CDH added). The statue has been renamed “Atlas”, after the titan who carried the world on his shoulders. CDH’s post-modern Atlas swings the world around; the natural world has been unbalanced by the activities of man, including mining giants like Rio Tinto.

CDH, "Pacman: the street art guide game", 2011

CDH has experimented with water-activated paint, with the fire graffiti to paint a portrait of Mishima and next, oxidizing iron filling. He has made interactive street art maps of the city (Pac Man and Logic Deductive Test – my first blog post about CDH). The range of his activities is impressive – he is not from an art school background and does believe that artists should be creative, politically engaged and street.

In the emails before the meeting CDH asked me who my top 10 Melbourne street artists and the 10 international street artists that I would like to see paint in Melbourne. The list of Melbourne street artists was easy (CDH was on that list) but I’m not that interested in the international street art scene – street art is such a mass movement and often anonymous. I thought again about his question – street artists that I would like to see paint in Melbourne. The surviving high school students from Homs who started the current uprising in Syria by painting anti-regime slogans on their high school wall – I would like to see them painting in Melbourne.


Bird Roost Heroes

Capt. Matthew Flinders (1923) by Charles Web Gilbert with seagull

It is an old chestnut but it suits a nautical man like Captain Matthew Flinders to have a statue that serves as a roost for seagulls. The bronze statue with its large granite plinth standing shows Flinders standing on the prow of a boat being dragged ashore by two sailors. The statue of Captain Mathew Flinders (1923) by Charles Web Gilbert stands beside the cathedral on Swanston St. in Melbourne. It would have been expected when the statue was erected that it would be joined by other statues of heroes but it looks like the tradition of creating bird roosts is fading away.

In the past it was easy – erect a stature of whoever is the current the culture hero. So the Scots would erect a statue of Robbie Burns, no questions asked, it was that easy. Now, it is not so easy. Who are the great and the good in the 21st century? The collective consciousness of the 21st Century is so mixed up with multiple identities, multiple worlds of merit (politics, war, peace, revolution, science, arts, sports) that are in dispute with each over the virtue of their merits, that any choice of a person as worthy of statue seems absurd.

Statue of Dali in Singapore

I remember looking at in amusement the collection of statues outside Parkview Square, an art deco revival apartment block in Singapore. It was a strange mad collection that only the most superficial understanding of history could put together. There was Dali along with Mozart, Picasso, Lincoln, Churchill and many others. There are some odd collections of statues of the great and the good around the world. When George Frêche, the president of the Languedoc Roussillon region of France decided to erect statues in Montpellier of the greatest men and women of the 20th Century he choose the following figures Vladimir Lenin, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Franklin Roosevelt, Jean Jaurés, Mahatma Gandhi, Gold Meir, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Nelson Mandela, Mao Zedong. (Alexander Chancellor reports in The Gaurdian Weekly 3/9/10 and Ed Ward writes about it in his blog entry “Days of Lard and Lenin”.)

What is the public expected to do with these statues? Worship their idols? There is, I’m told, a statue of Queen Victoria in India that has become a fertility shrine. Now in Melbourne only sports heroes and a few state Premiers are memorialised with bronze statues displayed in public places. These contemporary statues are all by Peter Corlett or Louis Laumen. I would like to see is a Peter Corlett statue of Nicky Winmar responding to racist taunts at the end of the St. Kilda vs Collingwood match in 1989. Here Corlett’s figurative sculpture could be used to create a passionate memorial of a rebuttal to racism that Melbourne needs to commemorate. Who do you think should have a public statue made of them or should we abandon the tradition?


Sculptures @ Queen Victoria Gardens

Queen Victoria Gardens are a very Edwardian garden that has been preserved in Melbourne out of indifference. The 3 palm trees in the middle of the park lawn are an indication, for the British minded population that Melbourne is in, what they would consider, the tropics. The sculptures and drinking fountain in the park were installed to serve a greater purpose that has since been forgotten in the collective consciousness. It might have meant something if I lived in Melbourne in 1901 but nobody does these days. This is what I mean by being forgotten in the collective consciousness.

Apollo Belvedere, artist unknown

Two classical busts stand on either side of the main entrance. In worse repair is the Apollo Belvedere that now has a badly repaired and elongated neck. The marble on both of these statues is very worn after long exposure to Melbourne’s weather. The sculptors are unknown but the donor is known, politician and newspaper proprietor, Theodore Fink who acquired the sculpture on a trip to Rome. Unveiled in 1928 these are the last two classical sculptures installed in Melbourne’s public gardens.

John Robinson, “The Pathfinder”, bronze, 1974

Without the excuse of being a classical sculpture, “The Pathfinder” by John Robinson, 1974, stands as a testament to conservative Melbourne. Robinson would have probably considered Rodin a bit avant-garde even though he was working a hundred years later. Robinson’s sculpture of the hammer thrower is so old fashioned to be ridiculous in that it imagines a future where such art would still be seen as important. The stolen hammer has not been replaced and the sculpture needs to be cleaned of graffiti.

Baroness Yrsa Von Leistner, "The Phoenix", bronze, c.1973

On a plinth in a pond stands “The Phoenix” by Baroness Yrsa Von Leistner. Baroness Yrsa Von Leistner is a German sculptor and painter, her sculptures are scattered around the world from Salzburg, to Goa, to Melbourne. Yrsa Von Leistner’s sculptures are influenced by Rodin’s modernism; the simplified form, the rough and materiality of her figures all indicate his influence. The sculpture is a gift from the 40th International Eucharistic Congress Melbourne February 1973. Feathers, or flames, that were once attached at several points over the body of the sculpture have broken off and only fragments of two remain.

Earlier image showing the intact sculpture.

In another part of the pond there a statue of a nude woman, which you might assume from its style is from the late 19th century, it is “The Water Nymph” by Paul Montford, 1925.

Paul Montford, “The Water Nymph”, bronze, 1925

Up on the hill white marble and granite memorial to Queen Victoria by James White, 1907. More than 7,000 pounds was raised by public subscription for the construction of the memorial; it would impossible to think of contemporary Melbourne doing the same for the current Queen.

Tom Bass, "The Genie", bronze, 1973

The only sculpture in the garden that still resonates and remains current is “The Genie, a fantasy play sculpture for children” by Tom Bass in 1973. The bronze sculpture of a winged sphinx is still enjoyed by children because they can play on it. A class of schoolgirls were playing and posing for photographs on the sculpture when I visited the park.

The Ottoman revival style drinking fountain c.1936 no longer has water running. The sculptures are worn.  In another city with less space such a garden would have been redesigned but with all the available space even in the centre of the city it has just been left. The people of Melbourne still enjoy the lawns but the park has become a historical relic.

I would prefer not to live in a state with a name that, in the possessive, also refers to a historical period – Victorian. Of course, using English royalty to refer to historical periods is passé in this post-colonial world. But a change of name would be nice just to avoid confusion.

Golden lawns, village green

Victoria was my queen

Victoria Victoria Victoria Victoria

(Mark E. Smith, The Fall)


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