Tag Archives: Charles Web Gilbert

What kind of artist?

“People pay to see others believe in themselves.” – Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth

What do expect an artist to be? What kind of artist do you want to be? How does this persona of a particular kind of correspond to your art? How does it influence the perception of others?

There are many models for an artist, musicians, writers and other creative geniuses and so many different examples to follow. None of these strategies are guaranteed to work and so much depends on whom you happen to know and when you happen to be born. We are going to have to separate the myths and stories from the truth… be-careful what you wish for. The truth is boring meetings, sitting at a desk writing proposals, working in the studio… lots of work, even a con man has to work at the con.

In the most ancient sense there the artist as psycho-pomp shaman who by ecstatically manipulating symbols attempts to heal the world, to drive out the evil spirits, to appease the familiar spirits and soothe the soul. If this is the case then question becomes is this shamanic artist a real magician or a fake manipulating the audience?

Do you expect the artist to be naturally gifted or even crippled in some way mentally or physically, attributes of shamanism in some societies? Do you want the artist to be in a romantic way in touch with an endless source of creativity? This source of creativity is often tied up with ideas of race and land or both and raises the questions about the politics of your beliefs in race and land.

Does an artist have to be a genius and if so what kind of genius? – an idiot savant or a mastermind? Do you expect an artist to be technically excellent craftsmen or is the unique expression behind the execution of the art more important? It is praise to call a tradesman a craftsman and it is praise to call a craftsman an artist.  But this hierarchy does not mean that the distinction between the practice (what the person does) and the product is always clear and distinct. Some contemporary craft has become conscious of itself as an art, pushing the definition of craft to the artistic limit and questioning the very distinction.

Do we expect the artist to do everything themselves and suffer the fate of the sculptor, Charles Web Gilbert who died suddenly exhausted from carrying the clay for his latest monumental sculpture. Or do we want artists to work with a team of curators, craftsmen, technicians and engineers in a list so long that if it were printed it would rival Hollywood movie credits?

Is the artist a loner or part of the in-crowd? Are they expected to be the court jester, King Lear’s all licensed fool, pleasing royalty by making jokes about them? Or a prophet in the wilderness?

There is the myth of the artist coming from nothing, the discovered by the art world and becoming an instant success (after twenty years of hard work). Does that mean that there is an oversupply of crypto artists, hidden geniuses waiting for eternity to be discovered? Or do you have to create your own fame like Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and Mark Kostabi? Media manipulation in the art world is not new; John Martin was a 19th century painter and self-publicist who had blockbuster exhibitions. In the post-YBA era do you expect artists to be famous superstar (the word was coined by Ingrid Superstar one of Andy Warhol’s stars) or do you expect them to be starving in a garret (like La Bohemia)?

Crypto-artists, zombie artists…

The idea of the artist as an authentic individual who creates their own identity through their work – what does the world expect of an artist?


Coburg Cemetery

I went to Coburg Cemetery primarily to find the grave of the Melbourne sculptor, Charles Web Gilbert. It was an easier task than I expected because Coburg Cemetery now has a Heritage Walk. And Charles Web Gilbert’s grave was one of the stops on the walk.

The self-guided walk starts at the visitor’s rotunda and takes the visitor around 30 graves in the cemetery. There are the graves of notable people like ornithologist George Arthur Keartland, victims of disasters, sporting heroes and politicians. The grave of gangland enforcer John Daniel (Snowy) Cutmore and the graves of murder victims, like police constable David Edward McGrath or bank manager, Thomas Anketell. And the graves of early Coburg’s Chinese residents and the grave of Said Ahmed Shah, the first Moslem religious leader in Melbourne.

The grave of Said Ahmed Shah

The hillside site for Coburg Cemetery was surveyed and gazetted in 1860 but was not used until 1875. The cemetery is divided into denominational compartments and the style of tombs reflects these religious differences. The cemetery is now an attractive, although muddy old cemetery full of examples of late 19th and 20th century funerary monuments, statues of angels and other ornamental marble carving. Some of the graves are in bad repair and erosion is causing some monuments to tilt and others to collapse.

Back to Charles Marsh Web (Nash) Gilbert (1867-1925); who made a total of 9 WWI memorials, more than any other Australian sculptor. He also made the Mathew Flinders Memorial next to St Paul’s Cathedral on Swanston St.

Charles Web Gilbert, Matthew Flinders Memorial, Melbourne

Charles Web Gilbert learnt sculpture as an apprentice chef modelling icing-sugar decorations. Mostly self-taught as a sculptor his only formal art training was in drawing. His first studio off was Collins Street, he then at 59 Gore Street where he built his own foundry and started experimenting casting in bronze. He regularly exhibited with the Victorian Artists’ and Yarra Sculptors’ societies and in London at the Royal Academy. Late in 1917 Gilbert joined the Australian Imperial Force as a sculptor in the War Records Section. After that the rest of his life was dominated by making memorials. Gilbert made 9 World War I memorials for the Chamber of Manufactures, Melbourne, the Malvern Town Hall, the British (Australian) Medical Association, Parkville, Shepparton, Burnside, Adelaide, and Broken Hill.

Charles Web Gilbert had always done everything for himself, including his own foundry work. He wore himself out carrying clay for a huge full size model and died suddenly on 3 October 1925. Web Gilbert’s grave in Church of England section of cemetery is very plain with out any memorial sculpture or even a headstone.


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