Category Archives: Public Sculpture

Memories of the paperboy

The bronze paperboy is standing at the corner of a park on Hawthorn and Balaclava Roads in Caulfield. His clothes, flared bellbottom trousers, and long hair are clearly from the sixties or early seventies. Now they are antique fashions from another century.

When I first saw the bronze paperboy, I was sitting in a tram going past it. I thought that there had to be a story to the sculpture. Was it a memorial to someone hit by a car as they sold newspapers? I am not the only person to have thought that, but it’s not true.

Melbourne was very dull in the early 80s, and public sculpture was rare. Although it was the first time I saw it, I thought that I would see it again, get a better look, perhaps so regularly that I would be bored with its story. It could become part of my daily commute.

It never did. The next time that I saw it was almost forty years later. Even though I have lived in Melbourne the whole time, the vast city meant that I was travelling different routes. Again I was in a tram, and I again didn’t stop. On the return trip, it was pouring rain, and I didn’t get off the tram to look at the sculpture. My memory was only of one sculpture of the paperboy, but there are a group of statues. How many works of public art are like this? Things seen for a few seconds, once or twice in a lifetime, from fleeting, half-remembered views of a sculpture in a park that you have never stopped to see as you pass by on the tram.

The third time was in the sunshine. I walked through Caulfield Park to look at the sculptures. I am amazed to find that there are three naked bronze figures climbing poles for a garland. How could I have missed them? I was just looking out a tram window on the other occasions. And because the complete scene is more meaningless than just the single figure of a bronze paperboy from my memory.

I have no idea what the whole scene means. It is titled The Paper Boy, Mother and Child and Climbing Boys by sculptor Phillip J Cannizzo installed in 1980. Cannizzo was born in 1945, studied at Prahran Tech and RMIT, and now lives in Italy. He had his first one-man exhibition at Komon Gallery, Woollahra, in 1971, and he has some work in the National Gallery of Australia’s collection.

The more I look, the less sense it makes. Why didn’t I remember the paperboy and not the pole climber? Because the rest of it makes no sense. It is not as if there was an annual naked pole-climbing spring festival in Caulfield in the 1970s. It would be great if there was, but there is no tradition.

In some ways, it is not a bad piece of public art. It is integrated with the corner and the landscaping of the park. Like so many subsequent public sculptures, you could sit on the same bench as the woman and child. The figures are sculpted in a loose, sketchy style with a light touch that was popular at that time. The figures are seated, standing, and climbing poles. Few details and no attribution, a common feature of older public art that I am glad has largely been abandoned. Artists have the moral right to be identified as the creator of their work.


Sculptures of animals in Melbourne

As statues of people have come into further question recently. What about public sculptures of non-human animals? Just them; not when they are with humans, like all the equestrian statues. Most of the animals depicted are not native to Australia. There are imperial lions and even a few unicorns and dragons. The symbolic use of animals in sculptures is an ancient tradition.

Melbourne and Bruce Armstrong were fortunate that his symbolic work, Eagle (Bunjil) from the Jungian collective unconscious, has resonated with local Kulin Nation mythology.

Aside from heraldic use as supports on coats of arms there are a few sculptures of native animals. There is large wooden wombat called Warin who used to live in the city. The extinct Tasmanian tiger  can be found in Richmond, Anton Hasell’s Yarra Thylacine. A couple of stone kangaroos surmount the drinking troughs while the water spouts are emus on the nineteenth-century Westgarth Drinking Fountain at the Exhibition Buildings. 

Fiona Foley, Murnalong, is not the only bee sculpture in Melbourne, there is Richard Stringer’s Queen Bee on the Eureka Tower, but it is the only indigenous bee sculpture. Ray Ewer’s made a plaque for a memorial fountain to Cookie the black swan. There are even animals most people wouldn’t even recognise, Alex Goad’s Tethya, the cells of a local sea sponge. 

Pamela Irving’s Larry LaTrobe is located in the centre of Melbourne, outside the Town Hall; this ugly bronze dog makes a grab for being Melbourne’s most popular statue. The other dog sculpture in the fight is the Fairfield Industrial Dog Object (FIDO), and FIDO is a mighty big dog.  There are more dog statues around, including this fine bronze greyhound resting soulfully on a tomb in Boroondara Cemetery.

There are sculptures by artists who have depicted other animals as the focus of their practice. Lisa Roet’s art reminds us that we are great apes, like our nearest relatives, the chimpanzees. Her work uses scale, notably the temporary, giant, inflatable statue of one of David Greybeard, a chimpanzee studied by Jane Goodall. 

Les Kossatz is best known for his sculptures of sheep. The balance between the realism and the comic energy in Coming and Going at the back of the Arts Centre of the sheep coming and going through trap doors. 

John Olsen’s signature image of a frog leaping was made into a bronze sculpture in a pond in Queen Victoria Gardens.

Where John Olsen’s Frog is a signature image made into a sculpture, Floyd’s sculpture is literally called Signature Work. Going down a rabbit hole of post-modern semiotics. Depicting a toy rabbit, a toy that represents an idea of a rabbit, or rather the repeated use of that image of it in Floyd’s art. 

There are also a few horse statues, not surprising in a city so owned by the gambling industry that there is a public holiday for a horse race. I am not a fan of all these sculptures anymore than I’m a fan of all the statues of homo sapiens. Some are horrible, while others are just tasteless or boring. June Arnold’s Dolphin Fountain in Fitzroy Gardens with bronze dolphins, birds, sea horses, and starfish is Melbourne’s most kitsch sculpture. 


Street Art Sculpture 12

This is my annual post about street art sculpture, a topic that I’ve been focused on for decades because it crosses over into my interest in public sculpture. It is the most difficult of all unauthorised art for street art sculpture often requires more materials, planning and choice of location than other forms of street art and graffiti. Even creating a small piece of black glazed ceramic with the raised letters “Black Lives Matter” on it and gluing it to a power pole takes infinitely more effort than writing it with a marker.

The ABC reported about a googly eye prankster operating in Adelaide, but all I’ve seen in Melbourne is this pink rock attached to a power pole in Brunswick. That pink rock rocks. 

Prof Alison Young pointed out a series of tiny blue creatures inhabiting caves in some ill-formed concrete at the VCA. They were probably made a few years ago, given how many have been damaged, but they are still recognisable.

The year’s highlight was a series of unauthorised sculptures with a contemporary Arte Povera attitude installed in a field in Royal Park is, something very formal, physical and site-specific. 

If you are make something that will survive outdoors in Melbourne, then it will last. I love how this old Will Coles cast concret sculpture in Hosier Lane survives under multiple layers of aerosol paint.

I keep finding tiny doors all over the city; I have no idea how long they have been there or what is behind them.

Street artists will sometimes create three-dimensional versions of their art. The art toy scene is another step further in this practice.

For more about unauthorised public sculptures, see my earlier posts:


Dr Louis Smith & the arts

To one side of the entrance to the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton stands a bronze bust of a man with a moustache. It is on a granite pedestal plinth with the following words engraved:

The honorable Dr LL Smith FRCS

Erected by public subscription 26th March 1914

Chairman Exhibition Trustees 1884-1909

A trustee from 1881

Dr Louis Lawrence Smith (1830-1910) was a celebrity doctor, anatomy museum director and politician in colonial Melbourne. A witty, self-promoter, and as unscrupulous and corrupt as the best Australian politicians. He also had some odd connections to the visual arts.

Being a celebrity doctor, only the best will do with the bust by Australia’s first international superstar artist, Bertram Mackennal. It is not a significant work in Mackennal’s career, a small commission compared to others that he had from Melbourne’s doctors (you must see the grave commissioned by Dr Springthorpe at Boroondara General Cemetery in Kew).

Dr Smith arrived in Melbourne in 1852 at the start of the gold rush as a ship’s surgeon. His father was a theatrical entrepreneur in London, and from him, Smith learned how to gain attention by spending enormous amounts on advertising. Smith specialised in venereal disease at a time when there were no effective cures. Besides a medical practice, he ran an anatomy museum, a nineteenth-century cover for sex education, alongside his clinic in Bourke Street, until 1869 when it was ordered closed because it offended ‘taste’.

Dr Smith supported the early release of the bushranger turned sculptor William Stanford. He examined Stanford in Pentridge Prison and diagnosed that Stanford had contracted a lung disease from the fine granite dust that he had inhaled carving basalt. Dr Smith’s prognosis was that Stanford could not be expected to live long. Smith diagnosis was incorrect; Stanford did live for many more years, working as a stonemason and did not die of any lung disease.

A petition for Stanford’s release in 1869 failed. Stanford completed his fountain in 1870. In the 1871 Victorian elections, Smith won the seat of Richmond as the ‘people’s candidate’ and called for ‘an unconditional pardon’ for Stanford. Stanford was ‘discharged to freedom by remission’ in October 1871. Smith provided him with an interest-free loan of £900 (about $140,000 today) to buy a house on Madeline Street in Prahran and establish a monumental masons business on Dandenong Road in the then working-class suburb of Windsor. If all parliamentarians lent released prisoners as much money, recidivism would be far lower.

Stanford’s Fountain in Melbourne

Later Dr Smith gave a gift to the Royal Exhibition Building of a ‘Rembrandt painting’ The wayfarer. Smith claimed it had been given to him by the Duke of York in 1901. The painting was subsequently stolen during a burglary at the Exhibition Building in Melbourne on the 29 April 1932. The canvas was cut from its frame, making me doubt its authenticity, as most Rembrandts are painted on wood. And before we mourn the loss of a masterpiece from the golden age of Dutch painting, remember that there were thousands of more paintings attributed to ‘Rembrandt’ in 1932 than there are now. Even supposing the original attribution was even close to being accurate, the painting would be attributed to one of Rembrandt’s students or followers. The inaccurate attribution may itself have been a reason to steal it, saving the owners from the future embarrassment of owning a fake.

Everything I learn about Dr Smith raises more questions.


Statues of Cook

It is always the Cook Memorial in St Kilda that is covered in paint. There are others; there several public statues of Cook in this state alone. How many does the country need?

Marc Clark’s Captain Cook

Out the back of the hyperreality of the Captain Cook cottage, a building he never lived in, transported to Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne. Marc Clark’s statue of Cook there was initially commissioned by a real estate agent for the entrance of a subdivision, the most typically Australian of origin stories.

Another by John Walker stands at the front of St. Paul’s Church in Bendigo. Why is there even a Cook statue in Bendigo? Cook never visited the gold mining city near the coast that didn’t exist in his lifetime. Cook stands like a saint on a pillar in front of the red brick, gothic revival “cathedral” bringing the British Empire to Australia. This location exposes the role this icon is meant to perform. The site only makes sense in a religious way. Cook has become an icon complete with a martyrdom, to people who identify as white English speaking monarchist Christians.

All of these statues are as far removed from the historic Captain Cook as Mel Gibson was from William Wallace. The statues depict a cosplayer, a model dressed up in a costume posing for a sculptor. The colonial Captain was reinvented for the late British Empire and then repurposed for the Australian neo-colonial empire, merging iconography of Empire and Church. Invented to stand defiantly against the tide of historical studies and hold onto the idea of the exceptionalism of English/Australians.

Australia has been assigned to Cook in the same way that Christian saints are patron saints of something. The connection may be tenuous but miraculously confirmed by the faithful. It is this mythical figure that is being worshipped in conservative Australia. Religions may be practised without acknowledgement, acts creating a pattern of uninformed worship.

So why is the Cook Memorial in St Kilda the focus for iconoclastic actions against this unofficial saint? The edition of John Tweed’s statue was relocated in 1988 to its current location for the Bicentennial of some colonial history that Australia was celebrating. It is a typically Australian space, a bare, empty patch of ground in the middle of some roads. It does allow for good photographs of paint pours without the distracting elements in the image.

In 2017 on January 26th pink paint was poured over the head of the bronze Cook Memorial in the Melbourne beachside suburb of St Kilda. In 2019 on the anniversary of Captain Cook’s death in Hawaii, the statue in St Kilda was yet again covered in paint. This time red paint on his hands and face, a streak of yellow down his trouser leg and ‘Good Riddance’ sprayed in black on the plinth, the colours of the Aboriginal flag. In 2022 on January 26th, it was covered in a massive pour of red paint that coats both the figure and the entire front of the plinth.

For several years the local city council has employed security guards to protect the statue with mixed success. The legality of these actions would depend entirely on whose country you were in at the time. This ongoing statue war is expected to continue as no peace or cease-fire talks have been arranged.


Les Kossatz counting sheep

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, Coming and Going, 1982

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.


Paramor at Moreland Station

The prime location beside busy Moreland Road is a car park because the massive LXRP project was all about a hypothetical increase in traffic flow. The priorities are evident and the Louise Paramor’s sculpture was installed not to be seen but to art-wash and tick boxes. It is not a hostile installation, just not very friendly as it is only visible from one side of the new railway station and isolated from most people in the area. Basically, a waste of a good sculpture.

I’ve seen faster installations of Paramor’s sculpture, see my blog post about installing Ursa Major. The landscaping around the sculpture took months with the sculpture isolated behind temporary fencing and bollards.

The sculpture is a substitute, having destroyed the Gandolfo Gardens and its mature trees. Adding to evidence that the sculpture is a substitute, it was born with a plastic spoon in its mouth. It is part of a larger group of sculptures that Paramor has been working on for years.

Studies for a Boomtown (2016) were intended as studies or maquettes for future large-scale sculptures, were made from found pieces of plastic, steel, and wood. Scaled up and fabricated in steel from on a model made of readymade plastic parts, the knitting needle, the wig stand and some kind of squeeze pump.

Visitors to the NGV may be familiar with Paramor’s Noble Ape in the sculpture garden, but it is different because it is beside a train station in Melbourne’s inner north. Melbourne’s train network rarely uses the arts for placemaking. There are few sculptures near train stations, but only Fleur Summers’s Making sense at Jewell (see my post) and FIDO in Fairfield (see my post) are visible from the train. 

What does it mean? The intention of public art as a provocation for the public’s imagination seems lazy and optimistic. Ambiguity is often overrated, and it will take time to judge how it has provoked the public. However, public sculptures are successful where the public completes stories of the sculpture. As Duchamp noted: “the onlooker has the last word, and it is always posterity that makes the masterpiece.”

Not that the onlooker is given any information about the new sculpture. No plaque, no title. Not even the name of the artist and Paramor does have the moral right of the artist to be acknowledged. 

Writing about architecture or public sculpture just after its installation is like writing about a battle plan before engaging with the enemy. It is too sympathetic towards the intentions of the architect and sculptor. It doesn’t care about the people who use the space. Only after they engage with the architecture or sculpture and make it their own, often renaming the sculpture in the process, can its qualities be fairly assessed. If a public sculpture is only known by one name, it hasn’t engaged with the public.

Writing about the recently installed Paramor sculpture at Moreland Station might be a mistake. It is a mistake that would favour the sculptor and commissioning process and ignore that it is a public sculpture. Sure, I could ask a few passers-by about their opinion or take some quotes from social media, but that would be merely anecdotal, not a representative sample. Nor is this fair to the randoms because these are just initial reactions, and they have been given no time or experience to form an opinion.

At least it is a sculpture by an established artist. In the past, there was a preference in Melbourne for the commissioning of emerging artists because it was cheaper to ‘foster emerging talents, ’ resulting in many second-rate sculptures. We are also fortunate that we are not living in an earlier time when a statue of Premier Dan Andrews or some other white Christian male would be erected like an unsolicited dick pic.


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