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.
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.