Tag Archives: bronze sculpture

The Michael Gudinski statue

With one finger, the statue of Michael Gudinski outside the Rod Laver Arena points to the sky. A strange gesture – reminiscent of da Vinci’s John the Baptist. However, unlike da Vinci’s Baptist, Gudinski is not recommending the heavens but looking at the stars; he has promoted many music stars.

The Mushroom Group (aka Mushroom Records) founder Gudinski emphasises the ‘Entertainment’ part of the precinct. The mushrooms on the base signify the Mushroom Group that Gudinski founded. Over the years, many of the bands that he represented played in the arena.

The distinction between “Arts” and “Entertainment” is part of the collective consciousness, divided by the Yarra River and built into the city’s fabric. Like the arts precinct on the Southbank, Both have extensive parklands, trains, and trams. Melbourne’s entertainment district is the sports stadiums, which are regularly used for large stadium concerts, on the north bank of the Yarra River.

When I looked, some real dry stems were amidst the bronze mushrooms. The remains of some flowers. Gudinski is still being mourned a little over a year after his death on 2 March 2021. But what will it mean in a couple of decades? Who will recognise him then? Curiously, Gudinski’s name is in stone and, on a bronze plaque on the back of the plinth that gives more details about his life and words “Forever #1”.  As if there was already some uncertainty of him being recognised.

Why does Melbourne need another statue? Celebrating music in bronze appears pointless. The three-dimensional representations of an abstract experience of organised sound seem to contradict Hegelian aesthetics. Rock now shares the money and influence with high-end culture for some odd memorials. That more of Melbourne’s music heroes are celebrated in bronze statues should be no surprise. In my review of the Mushroom Records exhibition at RMIT Gallery in 2014, I wrote, “rock music always wanted to be part of the establishment.”  

It must have been a tight schedule for the Meridian Sculpture Foundry in Fitzroy team to complete the statue, remembering that making a bronze statue is a team effort. The figure was made by Darien Pullen, Meridian’s senior mould maker and wax technician. The casting and coloured patination on the surface of the bronze statue is the work of others. Peter Morley, the founder of Meridian, has created different patinas to make Gudinski’s overcoat darker than his body. This is achieved by gently blow-torching a cocktail of chemicals sprayed onto the sculpture’s surface.

After Louis Laumen’s sculpture of Molly Meldrum, I’d heard that the next music star in the line for the memorial sculpture was Micheal Hutchins. Laumen’s staid portrait of Meldrum in his cowboy hat holding one of his dogs and his other hand with a thumbs up is the least rocking of Melbourne’s rock tributes. There are also laneway tributes to Bon Scott of AC/DC and Chrissy Amphlett of The Divinyls and a shrine to Elvis in the Melbourne General Cemetery.  

Darien Pullen, Michael Gudinski, 2022

Norma Redpath and the Higuchi Sculpture

If you have visited the NGV or studied pharmacy or microbiology at Melbourne University, you would have seen a sculpture by Norma Redpath. She has public sculptures in other cities, including the Treasury Fountain in front of the Treasury building in King Edward Terrace, Canberra, the Extended Column for the school of music of the Australian National University in Canberra Sculpture Column for the Reserve Bank of Australia in Brisbane.

Norma Redpath, The Higuchi Sculpture

I had seen The Higuchi Sculpture many times from the tram. It is easily seen high up on the blank cream brick wall of the Manning Building facing Royal Parade of the Victoria College of Pharmacy. The Victorian coat of arms on the NGV above the water wall is another notable Redpath sculpture on a plain modern wall. Redpath’s sculptures have a relationship to architecture, mediating modern architecture. She was amongst the first generation of sculptors to be site-specific.

I was walking past this time, so I ducked in to look at the accompanying bronze plaque beside the basketball court. It gave appropriate credit to the artist, the Pharmaceutical Society of Victoria, and the American pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Co provided financial support. Unveiled on 23 February 1972 by drug thermodynamicist Takeru Higuchi, ”the father of physical pharmacy.” 

“The sculpture is made up of a disc and a rectangle. The gap between the two pieces represents the time students spend on placement gaining vital practical experience. The ridges on the disc represent the main streams of knowledge taught in the pharmaceutical sciences. These ridges fuse together in the rectangle to denote the competent pharmacist, when academic, practical and professional experiences become integrated into the whole and complete pharmacist. A fourth ridge appears on the left hand side of the rectangle to represent administrative pharmacy and pharmacy management. The total design suggests an inverse mortar and pestle, and the symbolism is that of the heraldic academic medallion.” (Alchemy, Faculty magazine issue 21, summer 2011

So many Australians are familiar with sculptures by Norma Redpath (1928 —2013). Still, few would know the name of this leading modern sculptor. Redpath studied at sculpture Swinburne and Melbourne Technical College (now RMIT). Taught by George Allen and Stanley Hammond, she is a link between the anti-modernism of Paul Montford and Italian mid-century modernism. Redpath had close ties with the Italian art scene.

There is an absence in Redpath’s monumental sculptures, a part reduced to an absence, fragmentary forms. For abstract means to remove. The gap or lacuna is like the slashing of Lucio Fontana’s paintings (she had met and worked with the Milan-based artist).

There is an absence in Australian art history regarding this significant woman sculptor. The ABC has neglected to make a documentary, and the NGV to have a retrospective exhibition about her. Even my own book, Melbourne Sculptures, only mentions her three times.

Reading Jane Eckett’s essay “Man sights an object in space: Norma Redpath’s approach to public art.” and Redpath’s obituary by Kenneth Eugieniuz Wach’s “Australian sculptor who was enamoured with Italy” helped me understand Redpath’s life.

Norma Redpath, Flying capital – Sydney Dattilo Rubbo Memorial, 1970-74


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.


The Burns Memorial

“Notices paint the way to the “Banks of Coon” and to the Auld Brig, upon which a man in a bowler-hat stood with his camera ready. He offered to take my photograph with the Burns memorial as background. I said the honour was too great for a normal man, and begged to be excused.”

j b morton (beachcomber), “a lowland jaunt”
George Anderson Lawson, Robert Burns Memorial, Treasury Gardens

There are probably more memorials to Robert Burns in the Anglophone world than any other person except for maybe Queen Victoria. You can find a Burns memorial almost everywhere some Scots have lived; so if you live in Scotland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland or the USA there is likely to be one nearby. (For an incomplete list of the Burns Memorial nearest you see Wikipedia.)

Melbourne’s own Burn’s Memorial was erected on 23 January 1904. The memorial’s original location on the west side of St Kilda Road and it was moved to its current site in the Treasury gardens in 1970.

It is an edition of the Robert Burns Memorial in Ayr in Scotland by the Scottish-born, Liverpool-based, sculptor George Anderson Lawson in 1892. It is the same sculpture as in Montreal, Halifax (Canada), Vancouver, Winnipeg and Detroit, only the plinths which were manufactured by local stonemasons are different.

These statues were purchased with funds raised by the local Caledonian society. Every Caledonian society in the world appears to have been raising money for a Burns memorial at some stage in their existence. Melbourne’s cost £1000 (the equivalent of about $158,000 worth today x 60+ for all the Burns Memorials in the world).

On the frontside of Melbourne’s Burns memorial, “BURNS” is spelt out in bronze letter. (This summer as bushfires raged some Melbourne half-wit sprayed “Australia” above “Burns”.) On the other sides there are bronze panels depict scenes from his poems: Tam O’Shanter (1790), To a mountain daisy (1786), and The cotter’s Friday night (1785). This follows the traditional form of a memorial statue where moments in the life of the hero are depicted.

For me the memorials raises many questions. What is the point of a literary memorial and why do people believe that there was a need to represent heroes in sculptural form? Did the Caledonian societies get value for money buying all those Burns memorials? And, surely a writer’s best memorial is their words and not their physiognomy? But then who now remembers any of Burns words apart from a few lines of Auld Lang Syne?

I wasn’t able to photograph all sides of the plinth because there was a tradesman was eating his lunch. I have often seen people sitting at the base of the Melbourne Burns memorial, it is mostly used as a bench now. I asked the man if I could take his photograph with the Burns memorial as the background and but he politely refused.


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.)


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.


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