Tag Archives: Les Kossatz

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.


Public Sculptures @ Arts Centre Melbourne

In the shadow of the landmark architecture of the Art Centre’s spire Inge King’s Forward Surge stands between curves of Hamer Hall and the Art Centre. Children try to climb this sculpture by Melbourne’s matriarch of modernism, trying for a moment to surf these four massive black metal waves. Forward Surge is one of the many significant number of public sculptures, many by notable local sculptors, like King, in the grounds of Hamer Hall, the Art Centre and also at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

Inge King, Forward Surge 1972-74 (4)

Inge King, Forward Surge 1972-74

Now there is an exhibition about these public sculptures; “Sculpture Show: Public Art in the Arts Precinct” is displayed in the curved ‘Gallery’ that runs along the outer wall of the Arts Centre. The exhibition features four maquettes, the scale or working models for a sculpture, a few preliminary drawings and photographs of the sculptures by Mark Ashkanasy and Carla Gottgen. This was rounded out with a new series of drawings of some of the sculptures by Melbourne artist, Jill Anderson present new views of these familiar sculptures.

Amongst the preliminary drawings there are three drawings for a proposed but never completed hanging sculpture by the trio of Melbourne sculptors; Anthony Pryor, Geoffrey Bartlett and Augustine Dall’Ava. Although the three sculptors shared a studio in Fitzroy but collaborative works are rare. The drawing depicts a crazy mobile with pulleys, springs, weights and mini mobiles hanging off larger beams. Parts resemble Bartlett’s “Messenger” 1983 that once stood in the NGV’s moat.

Many of the sculptures around the Arts Centre have moved over the years as their surrounds have been redeveloped. Several of the photographs in the exhibition, especially those of interior sculptural elements in the buildings, reminded me how much has changed. Cole Sopov’s Family of Man has changed from interior to exterior sculptures. Even the five tons of Meadmore’s Dervish has been moved.


maquettes for Clement Meadmore Dervish, painted wood

After looking at the exhibition I went out into a little sculpture park at the back of the Arts Centre where Les Kossatz’s sheep are still Coming and Going 1979-82, in their comedy routine of doors. The sheep are kept company by an odd trio of sculptures; Tom Merrifield’s tribute to Anna Pavlova, Dragonfly 1988, Anthony Pryor’s Marathon Man 1991 and Andrew Rogers’s Rhythms of Life.

Andrew Rogers’s Rhythms of Life once stood on the river front side of Hamer Hall but this area has been taken over for more eateries. (It is not the only public sculpture along the Yarra River that has been moved to accomodate more dining areas; Deborah Halpern’s Ophelia was also moved for the same reason.)

To complete the experience I should have continued on to the Sidney Myer Music Bowl where there is the sculpture of Sidney Myer by Michael Meszaros, Carl Milles’ Hand of God and Pino Conte’s Miraggio.

I have previously written blog posts about David Maughan’s Les Belle Helénès, as well as the sculptures of Pino Conte and Cole Sopov. I have also written blog posts about the sculptures of Geoffrey BartlettInge King, Anthony Pryor and Andrew Rogers.

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