Les Kossatz uses sheep in the same way Magritte uses men in bowler hats, not representationally but metaphysically. For Kossatz, sheep are a way of representing the Australian “squattocracy”, the colonists who made fortunes by occupying and claiming ownership of land that wasn’t theirs. In his sculptures, sheep become symbols for many things from interchangeable integers of colonial Australia; fun without being trivial or ludic.
Les Kossatz (1943–2011) was a Melbourne-based artist who was at the height of his fame in the late 70s and early 80s. Kossatz’s first significant commission was for stain glass at Monash University Chapel. However, although I was at Monash University for four years, I’ve never had any reason to step inside the chapel and only saw the large lumps of coloured glass from the outside. Like most people, I became familiar with Kossatz’s art through his sculptures of sheep.
Kossatz has public sculptures of sheep in Melbourne, Sydney, Tasmania and the ACT. The sheep in these sculptures are bronze, unlike Kossatz’s sculptures of sheep made for interiors. The sheep made for interiors were constructed from cast metal components and an actual fleece, tanned but not degreased, wrapped around a steel armature. The combination of cast feet and horns and real wool made these sculptures somewhat hyperreal.
Ainslie’s Sheep (aka the Civic Sheep) is a landmark in the centre of the suburb of, Civic. For more on the Civic Sheep, read Victoria Perin’s “A lesson in Canberra Art History: The Fucking Civic Sheep”. In Sydney Kossatz’s sculpture Curtain Call of four bronze rams and a shearer’s ramp has been put into storage after redevelopment and hasn’t been reinstalled because it is now considered a climbing hazard.
And in Melbourne, there is Coming and Going at the back of the Arts Centre. The sheep in Coming and Going have a comic energy, like one of those scenes in a farce with an absurd number of exits and entrances. Five sheep, two ewes and three rams, awkwardly emerging or descending through trap doors, half there and half not there. The lawn location is not a hostile installation (see my post on Melbourne’s most hostile sculpture installation). However, few people enjoy the sculpture because of the site. After forty years, Coming and Going still has energy and a sense of fun.