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Tag Archives: bronze sculpture

More than a kick

I couldn’t miss the Terrance Plowright sculpture, More than a kick, in Federation Square. Larger than life, high-kicking the bronze statue is sculptural version of Michael Willson’s photograph of Carlton AFLW player Tayla Harris.

Terrance Plowright, More than a kick

The sculptor, Plowright is from NSW and has made a large number of figurative public sculptures for places in that state but this is his first for Melbourne.

Federation Square will not be the permanent location for the statute — it will be there for a few weeks before being permanently installed (plonked, that’s a technical term for putting a sculpture somewhere that it wasn’t specifically made for) probably out the front of some football ground. Someone who knows more about football (most of Melbourne) will have more of an idea of which football ground.

There are several reasons why it is unlikely to be the MCG. Plowright is not one of the sculptors who are regularly commissioned to sculpt the larger than life statues of sporting heroes at the MCG, Louis Laumen and Julie Squires. His style is realistic, rougher than the highly polished figures around the MCG. Nor is the sculpture’s sponsor (NAB) the usual sponsor (Telstra) for the sports statues at the MCG.

A lot of people love statues of sports heroes but I don’t; it is too archaic a reason for a sculpture. Their active poses ultimately goes no-where, remaining static, on a pedestal, in memoriam.

As a temporary location for statues Federation Square sometimes works and sometime fails. It works because it is central location and a lot of people visit and it often doesn’t work because there is so much else going on there. In another part of the square, some edition of the Fearless Girl stands in front of the entrance to a bar.

One of the few points in favour of both of these statues is that they redresses Melbourne’s statue gender in-balance. (See my blog post Statues of women and women sculptors.)

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Taken Not Given

A young woman reaches for two children. Their large hands emphasis the desire to touch. The ground is strewn with bronze garlands engraved with poetic words that further invoke the separated families. Taken Not Given is a kind of memorial, a reminder of a Parliamentary apology, and a public recognition of the hurt caused by forced adoptions.

Anne Ross Taken Not Given 2018

The sculpture is by Melbourne-based artist Anne Ross. For the last 26 years Ross has been doing public art commissions around Victoria, NSW, ACT and Hong Kong. Her figurative sculptures are generally playful fun however, for Taken Not Given, she had to reach another tone — one of an absence — of longing.

It was commissioned by the Victorian Parliament after its apology for forced adoption practices following the 2012 Commonwealth Senate Inquiry into forced adoption policies and practices. And was unveiled on 26 October 2018 on a small quiet triangle of garden on the corner of  Lansdowne St. and St Andrews Pl. beside the government buildings and opposite Fitzroy Gardens. It can be seen as you come along the street but is obscured from the corner by a large patch of plants. There was no desire line of trampled grass indicating where people had walked over the lawn to the sculpture or read the accompanying explanative panel.

Aside from looking at the aesthetic qualities and style of the sculpture and the landscape gardening when I see a new piece of public sculpture I ask: how is it being used? And, what is it intended to do?

Is this an apology cast in bronze? A solid reminder to the Victorian government not to take children from their parents again.

Or is it art-wash? Buying an indulgence from art to pay-off past sins. Is the sculpture used as a proof of their virtue for apologising and a distraction from the victims?

I’m not sure; but I’m sure that the questions are worth considering. Your answers are welcome in the comments.


Religious Statues in Melbourne

Public sculptures of religious figures are becoming more common in Melbourne. A decade ago there were hardly any but recent commissions seem to have doubled their numbers. The cynical psychologist in me suggests that the erecting permanent statue is a compensation for the decline in religion’s status in Melbourne. I use the word statue, rather than sculpture, because all of them are life-sized realistic figures made of bronze.

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Darien Pullen, Fr. Patrick Bonaventure Geoghegan, 2017

Darien Pullen’s statue of Fr. Patrick Bonaventure Geoghegan (1805-1864) the first Catholic priest in colonial Melbourne, stands with his hand outstretched in a blessing. Installed in 2017 in front of the oldest Catholic church in Melbourne, St Francis Church on Elizabeth Street. The sculptor, Pullen has worked at Meridian Sculpture Foundry since 1984 where he mostly assists in the modelling area. This is the second life size statue of a religious figure that Pullen has made; in 2015 he was commissioned to make a statue of St Patrick, for Australian Catholic University, Melbourne Campus.

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Louis Laumen Mary MacKillop 2012

Louis Laumen’s Mary MacKillop 2012, Catholic university depicts a young female figure plain 19th Century dress. The figure is on a conversation bench; you can sit down next to Mary, if you can squeeze in between the her and dove, but it looks like she is just getting up. She is about to put her book down and stand up. She is looking towards her birth place across the road. It is also a reference to images of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, with the dove to symbolise the Holy Spirit. In the middle of Australian Catholic University’s new St Mary of the Cross Square on Brunswick Street that connects to the University. Laumen is best known for his statues of sporting heroes at the MCG, has done other sculptures for the Catholic church, including a previous Mary MacKillop for Penola College in Victoria and St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. Laumen finds the church’s commissions were less restrictive than those for the MCG.

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Julie Squires, St Mary of the Cross McKillop, 2012

St Mary of the Cross McKillop, 2012 by Julie Squires is installed at the new St Mary of the Cross Mausoleum at Melbourne General Cemetery. A life-sized statue of a nun, an older Mary MacKillop, embracing a little girl. The plinth puts the two figures at eye level for the average viewer. The use of different patinas on the sculpture adds to both the realism and increases the sentimental nature of the sculpture. Its sculptor Squires has taken over from Laumen in sculpting the sporting heroes around the MCG; after all sport is the major religion of most Australians.


Lost Wax Workshop @ Meridian

Although I have written a book about public sculpture I have never done any sculpting. Last weekend I went to Melbourne’s oldest sculpture foundry, Meridian for one of their workshops in the lost wax technique.

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When the sculptor Peter Corlett first took me to see Meridian I was amazed that there was a sculpture foundry just off Johnston Street in Fitzroy. Looking around the foundry there are sculptures in progress and moulds for sculptures by notable sculptors including Peter Corlett, Robert Kippel, Lisa Roet, and Andrew Rogers.

The foundry has been located in a two story nineteenth century brick warehouse, since it was established in 1973 by Peter Morely. It is now in its second generation with Peter Morely’s son, Gareth working at the foundry.

Peter Morely still works part-time often doing his favourite job applying the surface colouring effect to the bronze, the patination on the sculptures. This ranges from traditional black and brown through to green, white or polished.

So Fitzroy hasn’t been completely gentrified, there is still some industry in the suburb. People are still melting down bronze in furnaces and pouring the molten metal into moulds to make sculptures, using techniques that have been developed over the last five millennia.

Although the lost wax casting has been around for millennia techniques in bronze casting have not stopped developing. New synthetic materials are being used from building industry rubber to 3D printing using potato starch. Anything that will cleanly burn away like wax leaving an empty space, the mould into which the bronze will be poured.

Even the traditional bees wax has also been replaced by a synthetic wax with a dark green pigment added. The wax as media is very forgiving because it can be both additive modelled and subtractive carved; so if you make a mistake you can easily stick something back on or cut it off.

I thought that I knew about lost wax technique before the workshop however there is so many steps in the process that you don’t realise until you start. One thing I did know it is a process where you don’t do it all yourself; that part of the job of a sculpture foundry is providing assistance and advice to the sculptor.

Darien Pullen conducted the workshop for three people and myself which allowed for plenty of one on one advice and assistance. Darien is a sculptor who has worked at Meridian since 1984 mostly making moulds and preparing waxes for casting; last year his winged victory statue was unveiled outside the Marrickville Town Hall. He also teaches in life drawing and that helped with my sculpture.

I thought that a small cat sculpture would be a good idea because I had a lot of sketches and photographs of my cats. Cats, like sculpture, are all about volume, the thin creature beneath the hair is a very different creature. Furthermore, I consoled myself, as many people like cats, so any cat sculpture however poor will have some admirers.

At the end of Sunday afternoon I took the wax model home; nobody is expected to complete a model in six hours. I plan to do some more work on it and sandpaper smooth out some of its curves. Eventually each of the workshop participants will have their wax model cast in bronze and a patina applied. None of the workshop participants will be involved in pouring the bronze as there are too many health and safety issues involved to even begin to list.

Black Mark did the workshop courtesy of Meridian.


Frog Pond

The thin frog looks so skinny that you can see its bones. It is not meant to be a particular frog but rather a generic Australian native frog leaping fully extended from the water. An amphibious athlete to match the near-by hammer thrower by John Robinson.

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John Olsen, Frog, 2013 bronze

John Olsen’s Frog, 2013 is installed in the Children’s Pond in the Queen Victoria Gardens. The two metre tall bronze frog was unveiled on Wednesday 16 December 2016.

The pond is named after two other sculptures, John Robinson’s Water Children (c.1970) is a bronze sculpture of two children, a boy and a girl, playing amongst the rocks at the source of the pond. It amongst some of the most sentimental sculpture in Melbourne. However, the source of the pond is now a damp bowl and the fountain has been turned off and this post is about Olsen’s Frog and not Robinson’s Water Children, which were modelled on his own children.

John Olsen is well know for his paintings of frogs but he is not widely know as a sculptor. When a major artist like him want to make a sculpture there are people who can help you produce a saleable work that would look attractive in a millionaire’s garden.

Olsen’s Frog is a gift from the property developer Eddie Kutner (Wonderment Walk) to the City of Melbourne in recognition of the work that the city has done in capturing, purifying and reusing stormwater. Water is a reoccurring theme in Melbourne’s sculptures with the first public sculpture Charles Summers, River God commissioned by the council to celebrate Melbourne’s water supply.

About a century earlier another businessmen, Theodore Fink donate two busts to Queen Victoria Gardens. Since then it has slowly been filling with mostly gift sculpture.

But thinking now about the frog; since I have been writing this blog I have been noticing many animals in contemporary art, from taxidermy specimens to drawings of animals. Taxidermy animals in particularly figure prominently in contemporary art. For more on this subject see my posts on taxidermy and contemporary art, and Why look at Dead Animals.

The answer to my question came in Janine Burke’s “The elephant in the room: Uses and misuses of animals in curatorial practice” Art Monthly Australia (Issue 280, June 2015) examines the nexus of animals and contemporary art attributing this to a massive shift in contemporary thinking that challenges the binary human and animal distinction. Burke attributes this to philosophers including: Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guttari, Jacques Derrida and Peter Singer.

Humans are feeling more comfortable accepting that they are another animal amongst many. The family of ducks inhabiting the ponds with the sculpture, watching the ducklings explore the pond. Contemporary art’s interest in the soft sciences, zoology and biology, as well as, the social sciences may be a reaction to the high modernist interested in the hard sciences like physics and chemistry.


Ballet sculptures in Melbourne

In December I was walking passed the Arts Centre in Melbourne when I noticed some new sculptures being installed at the top end of lawn. Actually I first recognised the small spider-like crane of  J.K. Fansham Pty Ltd, that I last saw installing Louise Paramor’s Ursa Major, before I saw the sculpture.

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David Maughan, Les Belle Hélène, 2015

Les Belle Hélène by David Maughan was being installed on the lawn of the Arts Centre Melbourne. The title is a reference to La Belle Hélène an operetta by Jacques Offenbach. The sculpture depicts two female ballet dancers both en pointe, one in an arabesque balancing on one leg while the other with her arms spread is fully extended on both feet. The sculpture is a gift to the Australian Ballet and the semi-classical bronze figures match the tradition of classical ballet.

Melbourne sculptor David Maughan has done many sexy sculptures of slim ballerinas. David’s wife, Helen Choules was a dancer. This explain both the obvious sexual interest in and the technical accuracy of the female figures in Maughan’s sculptures (the nipples on Maughan’s dancers are aways outstanding).

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Simon Brady, Dancer, College of the Arts ground

I now wonder if Maughan isn’t responsible for another ballet sculpture in Melbourne, the bronze figure of the dancer at the front of the VCA. I’m not sure; his webpage doesn’t give much information. (After the publication of this post I get the answer, no, it is by Simon Brady. See the comments.) There is a sculpture of male and female ballet dancers in the garden of the Stokes Collection at Mount Macedon in central Victoria but they look even less like Maughan’s work.

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Tom Merrifield, Dragonfly

None of these ballet sculptures are in my book, Sculptures of Melbourne where there are more about sculptures of footballers than ballet dancers. That’s Melbourne, it’s not my taste; my taste is much more for dancers rather than footballers. Not there is much difference as sculptures of dancers or athletes are both celebrations of athleticism.

I am trying to keep up with the new public sculptures in Melbourne. I feel that I should as the author of a history of public sculptures although my book, Sculptures of Melbourne was never intended to be a catalogue of Melbourne’s sculpture. In writing a history you can’t include every example. Melbourne City Council itself has 100 sculptures and 80 monuments; this does not including privately owned sculptures on public display like Les Belle Hélène, that is owned by the Australian Ballet and on public display on the lawn at the Arts Centre near the Inge King sculpture.


More Gift Public Sculptures

The very slim bronze figure of a woman, Miraggio (aka Seated Figure) sits perched on her tall stool watching at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. She sits there her hands folded in her lap, listening in quiet contemplation regardless off whether anyone is performing. The sculpture was Pino Conte, (1915 – 1997 ) an Italian sculptor whose work continues to sell at auction.

Pino Conte, Miraggio

Pino Conte, Miraggio

The date of the sculpture is uncertain as Miraggio came into the city’s public art collection in 1964 when an anonymous ‘Lover of Italy’, possibly Claudio and Lesley Alcorso, donated it to the Sidney Myer Music Bowl Trust and Melbourne City Council. I believe that it was Claudio and Lesley Alcorso for in December 1963, when Conte came to Melbourne to unveil the sculpture, standing next to him at the unveiling were Claudio and Lesley Alcorso. Following the re-landscaping of the Music Bowl, Miraggio was reinstalled in October 2001, in the upper grass audience areas at the Music Bowl.

Maybe I should have had a section on gift sculptures in my book, Sculptures of Melbourne, especially international gifts, see my earlier post. However my book was never intended to be a catalogue of Melbourne’s sculpture; Melbourne City Council itself has 100 sculptures and 80 monuments. But maybe not, I didn’t mention many gift sculptures in the history of public sculpture because gifts, especially the international ones, are generally interventions outside of the history, with all the relevance that birthday presents have to biographies.

Cole Sopov, Family of Man 1, 1984

Cole Sopov, Family of Man 1, 1984

I could have included Cole Sopov Family of Man I and II, 1984, at the Arts Centre. The modernist figures in two family groups are abstracted and reduced to the point of starving refugees. The ribbon bands joining the figures is water not drapery, they are wading ashore in new land; looking to the future, armless and naked. This is how modern art came to Australia, in the minds of post-war European refugees and migrants.

Unusually this pair of sculptures are made of brass not bronze possibly because they were originally intended to be displayed in the foyer. In 1983-84 Sopov were commissioned by John Truscott, the designer of the interior of the Arts Centre for the entrance foyer and moved outside in 2001. The sculptures were a gift of John and Agita Haddard. John Haddard AO is Emeritus Chair of the Board of Governors of the Arts Centre Melbourne Foundation and currently Chairman of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.

Greek-born Sopov arrived Australia 1971 where studied at RMIT 1973 to 1974 before going on to lecturer in Fine Arts at Chisholm college. In 1984 he was the Head of Chisholm Sculpture department (later Monash University) from 1977 to 1995.


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