This is a collection of photos of Melbourne public sculptures and their maquettes. Maquette is an arty French word for a ‘model’ from when French was the language of art (now the language of contemporary art is any language that you speak). They are made in a variety of media from wood, wax, clay or anything other inexpensive media that works for the sculptor.
Sculptors make them as visual sketches for themselves but they are also used to get commissions for sculptures. The sculptural equivalent of architectural models. The City of Melbourne has a small collection of these maquettes in their storage, as have the Arts Centre, that were submissions for sculpture commissions.
These models are made directly by the sculptor whereas the full-scale version may be the work of both sculptor, assistants and other fabricators. The models for bronze sculptures are made out of bees wax and multiple bronze editions of these scale models are sometimes made.
Louis Laumen’s Pastor Sir Doug and Lady Gladys Nicholls Memorial (aka Dungala Wamayirr) was originally design to be on opposite sides of each and to be on a higher plinth. Here they are along with James White’s Edmund Fitzgibbon Memorial, along with another unknown statue (possibly Peter Corlett’s John Cain but on a plinth).
At the unveiling of a new public sculpture, after customary the welcome to country; the politicians and philanthropists make speeches to thank everyone involved, often forgetting the sculptor. But Molly Meldrum did not forget to thank the sculpture Louis Laumen.
Meldrum had a signed cowboy hat, as well as, words of thanks for Laumen. He spoke about Laumen’s other sculptures at the MCG, gushing how much he loved all of them. (He didn’t mention Laumen’s most recent statue of Nicky Winmar or the argument over its location.)
Meldrum was the last to speak, after Uncle Colin Hunter, Mayor of City of Yarra Daniel Nguyen, Minister for the Arts Martin Foley, Eddie McGuire and founder of Mushroom Records Michael Gudinski. And, as usual, in spite of his slurred speech, it was difficult to get Meldrum to shut up. He did say that he resisted the proposal to honour him with a bronze statue and tried to derail the plan by insisting that his dog, Ziggy, was included.
It was a cold grey Tuesday in Richmond and a crowd of about three hundred people had turned out. They were patiently waiting through the speeches to see the new bronze sculpture unveiled.
It turned out to be a very colourful statue as it turned out with plenty of gold, white, black and brown patination. Now that it is well known fact that classical sculpture was painted people are not shy about polychromatic patination. It is on a very low plinth, a little more than a step, because it wouldn’t do to put Meldrum on a pedestal.
It is located in a micro park opposite to the stairs going up the beer garden at the Corner Hotel, a somewhat fitting location given that it is a notable band venue. Along with the statue, there is a new mural by 23rd key on the train embankment wall. A green and white image of a concert crowd bookended with painted copies of band posters.
Hanging above my desk is HaHa’s stencil portrait of Nicky Winmar and I have long wanted to see a public bronze statue of Winmar ever since that football match at Victoria Park in 1993. I’ve never been interested in Australian football nor do I think that more bronze statues are a great addition to a cityscape. I wanted one because Winmar’s gesture in reply to racist taunts is both significant and beautiful.
HaHa, Nicky Winmar, 2009
Australia is still in love with monuments and memorials. There is no shortage of recent official monuments and memorials in Melbourne from traditional bronze figures to abstract monuments, like the Great Petition. These permanent monuments express the desire to establish a national mythology but given the lack of statues of both women and Indigenous people it is not representative.
Public sculpture is an obvious indication of the political and social values and structures of a place. Public sculptures make obvious public statements, from the choice of subjects to the style of the finished work it is all deliberate. This is why Australia needs a statue of a proud Noongar man standing victorious in defiance racist taunts.
If someone had asked me which sculptor I would like to sculpt Winmar I would have picked Melbourne-based sculptor, Louis Laumen because of his experience in sculpting sporting heroes around the MCG. Not that anyone asked me (nor I am surprised that they didn’t, I have no power or influence) but the commission did go to Laumen. I don’t like Laumen’s style but I know that it will be appreciated by the crowds of football supporters. My one criticism is why Laumen keeps on making statues with their mouths half open; Wayne Ludbey’s photo shows that Winmar was tight lipped as he points to his chest.
The only problem now facing the statue of Winmar is that it hasn’t been decided where to install it: Melbourne or Perth. Perth because Perth’s Optus Stadium on Noongar land. It is a strange problem for a sculpture and the Indigenous Past Players Association is right to question the process because generally a location for the sculpture is agreed before it is commissioned. There is an obvious solution to this problem; bronze sculptures can be made in multiple additions. So lets put our hands in our collective pockets and pay Louis Laumen and Fundêre Foundry in Sunshine for another edition of this important sculpture.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At Fundêre Foundry in Sunshine John Kelly, the artist famous for his Cow Up a Tree sculpture, is making the third sculpture in his cow series. This one will be a 5.5 metre bronze, Man lifting cow, but at the moment it is mostly clay.
Now that I am the author of Sculptures of Melbourne, a history of Melbourne’s public sculpture I get invited to foundries to meet artists. I should really check exactly what I have written about them in the book and on my blog before meeting them, so that I can be prepared. The first thing that John Kelly wanted to talk about was site specific sculptures as I had described his Cow Up a Tree sculpture as “completely non-site specific”.
I doubt that I will say anything like that for his next sculpture as there is a big hook for that story: local boy makes a sculpture for his local suburb in a local foundry. John Kelly is not the only contemporary artist who grew up in Sunshine, but sculptures by Leigh Bowery or Stelarc might be too extreme and confronting for general public.
The local Brimbank City Council is making the most of the sculpture’s local manufacture, holding a “commissioning launch” at the foundry for the sculpture in a few weeks time. Something to do before the model becomes unrecognisable in plaster moulds. For several reasons the model for fake camouflage cow will be made of fibreglass, chiefly as it would weigh several tons if made of solid clay like the figure of man.
John takes a break from pushing clay around on the sculpture and shows me the marquettes as Cameron McIndoe of Fundêre Foundry welds the armature of the hand. The problem of fitting the hand to the cow’s leg is going to take some time.
In the corner of Fundêre Foundry there is the larger than life size equestrian sculpture of a Australian horseman from the Boer War by Louis Laumen. There are plans for three more.
On Saturday I went to the opening of Mal Woods Foundry in Reservoir. Sculptors, foundry workers, friends and interested people gathering to watch bronze being poured along with nibbles and drinks.
The weather was great, a pleasant sunny day, I bicycled to the foundry from Coburg. “This must be the place.” I thought as I cycled along Kurnai Ave. The factory and even its carpark was an oasis of tasteful design in the industrial area.
The professionals were talking about their work including another Boer War Memorial with one and half sized equestrian statues. I can see why the sculptor, Louis Laumen and the foundry workers are keen on the project, more work for them. I can also see why the people behind the project might be having difficulty raising funds for it. Why does Australia need more Boer War Memorials?
There were amateur backyard foundry enthusiasts talking about their hair dryer or vacuum cleaner fanned furnaces. I didn’t know that there were amateur backyard foundries casting small objects in plaster moulds.
At the back of Mal Woods Foundry the moulds that had been drying out in a kiln and were then placed in a large metal trough and secured in place with sand.
Mal Wood added an ingot of tin and two large ingots of copper to the furnace, the tin first and then the copper. These two soft metals when combined produce an alloy that is harder than either of them.
The roar of furnace dies away and in front of the assembled crowd the crucible was removed. The temperature of the bronze tested and then the bronze was poured into the moulds. I didn’t see the results of these castings, you couldn’t tell from the moulds, not with all the venting pipes. When I left the bronze was turning from florescent pink to dark purple in the moulds, still hot enough to warm a person standing nearby.
I should write something like “I am pleased to announce the publication of my book, Sculptures of Melbourne” except that I’ve been too busy to think about how I feel. I have been working on the book for a long time, I started a couple years ago and now it is being printed. It still doesn’t seem real yet. All I seem to remember is the harrowing, nightmarish parts and not the enjoyable moments. I really enjoyed interviewing all the sculptors; Peter Corlett, Louis Laumen, Daniel Lynch and Bruce Armstrong. There were surprise encounters with CDH and Stuart Ringholt and the enjoyment of research but that was a long time ago now.
Sculptures of Melbourne cover photo by Matto Lucas
Sculptures of Melbourne is published by Melbourne Books in late April. It is hardback with 224 pages and colour photography throughout the book and there is more information about the book on my new page Sculptures of Melbourne. It is currently being printed in Singapore.
Over the past months I have been finishing up work on my book, Sculptures of Melbourne; doing the photo captions, index, the order of photos and starting publicity. Following what seems to be an obscure rule of nature and due to various unforeseen delays this has been happening at the same time as the carpenter gets around to building the bullnose verandah on the front of my house and it all corresponded with my fiftieth birthday. Fifty appears to be the next most important date after twenty-one and all my friends are having big fiftieth birthday parties. So sometimes I have been I up a ladder painting of the new verandah, sometimes I have been at the computer looking at PDF versions of the book and sometimes I have been partying.
Doing the index was interesting because I realised how different this book from most other art books. Index terms include: health and safety, football and the MCG. This is because it is about the interaction between the public and art, something that public sculptures are perfect to demonstrate. When I finished the index I went back to painting the verandah before the bullnose corrugated iron roof went on.
Then there is publicity for the book because finishing the book is not the end of my work on the book. On the day of my first meeting with Rita Dimasi, the publicist at Melbourne Books the builder has dropped off the fretwork for the verandah, more painting to do. Lots to do for the publicity like this blog post, the static page about the book, working social media and emailing various people. Where has been the subject of many discussions and emails but I can now confirm that it will be on Friday May 1 at 6-8pm at Gallery One Three in Somerset Place, Melbourne, see the Facebook event page for the launch for more details.
This has been exhausting but fortunately I still have some blog posts in reserve. Having reserve blog posts is important for any blogger who wants to post regularly even when they are busy with other projects.