Tag Archives: realism

Horses & Generals

Even though classical art had survived centuries and represented eternal values eventually the classical image could no longer be sustained amidst all of the changes the modern world. The archaic robes of a judge or a city councilor would have to be updated to modern fashion. A general could no longer be represented on horseback, like the Roman Emporor, Marcus Aurelius, because generals no longer rode horses. You can see the end of classical art in Melbourne in two statues, both of generals, and both located, not far from each other in the Kings Domain Park.

Bertram Mackennal, George VII Memorial, 1920

The sculptors of these memorials are closely connected. There is a tradition of master and studio assistant that runs through the lives of William Leslie Bowles (1885-1954) and Raymond “Ray” Boultwood Ewers (1917-1998). Bowles trained in England attending night classes at South London School of Sculpture and at the Royal Academy. During the day he worked there with several sculptors, including Bertram Mackennal. In Mackennal’s studio Bowles assisted with the large public monuments, including the equestrian statues of King Edward VII for Melbourne.

When in 1937 William Bowles won the competition to create a memorial to Sir John Monash Commander in Chief of the Australian Forces, World War I. Bowles proposed the classical form for a military man, a bronze equestrian statue on a granite pedestal. The bronze statue of Monash was cast in Italy prior to the outbreak of WWII but only finally completed and installed in 1950.

William Leslie Bowles, Sir John Monash Memorial

William Leslie Bowles, Sir John Monash Memorial, 1950

There are many similar equestrian statues like the, nearby equestrian statue of the Marquis of Linlithgow by William Birnie Rhind that was unveiled in 1911. But the Monash Memorial is even more like the equestrian statues of King Edward VII that he had worked on with Bertram Mackennal further along St. Kilda Road.


A decade later, Ray Ewers depicted Sir John Monash’s contemporary, Sir Thomas Blamey not on horseback but in a jeep. Although Blamey’s wife wanted an equestrian statute, this was now too obviously archaic for both the sculptor and the committee commissioning the sculpture.

Ray Ewers, Sir Thomas Blamey, 1960

Ray Ewers was trained in sculpture at the Working Men’s College in Melbourne from 1936 to 1940. Bowles had selected Ewers as an assistant and Ewers had assisted him with the Sir John Monash Memorial. And when poor health stopped Bowles work for the War Memorial, he asked that his former assistant, Ray Ewers complete it. Ewers also made the “Australian Serviceman” at the Australian War Memorial sculpture garden in Melbourne.

Without the classical form to work from the Blamey Memorial, 1960 is simply big and ugly. The memorial is a bronze grossly oversized figure standing in part of an army jeep instead the tradition of an equestrian statue. The part of the jeep is shown exploded, as in a 3D technical drawing, rather than anything dramatic. The figure’s pose is stiff, military and not in the least classical. The granite plinth emphasizes the rectangular shape of the statue.

The statue could be described as ‘realist’, not the revolutionary 19th Century realism of Manet and Courbet, more like the 20th Century National Socialist Realism of Nazi Germany or the Socialist Realism of Stalinist Soviet Union. The realism and classicalism promoted by Nazi Germany cast a long shadow across sculpture in this styles in Europe but evidently had little impact in Australia.


Sunlight & Shadows

“If there were water we should stop and drink

Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think”

T.S. Eliot

The leaves of the eucalyptus hang down presenting as little as possible of their waxy surface to direct sunlight in order to reduce evaporation. The sun is hot, burning and relentless in the Australian summer – it is not good. There is not a cloud in the sky and the ground is baked and dry like the skulls in Juan Ford’s paintings.  Sunlight, after the Egyptians and Socrates, is a symbol of the truth and the good. In the antipodes, it is the opposite the sunlight is cruel and soul destroying.

Juan Ford has learnt one thing from Robert Mapplethorpe, portraits of people with their eyes shut are great. They don’t confront the viewer with a return gaze; the closed eyes are the best symbol for sight or insight. Or have they shut their eyes and turned their back on the horror?

It was not hot at the opening of Juan Ford’s new exhibition “Gravity” at Dianne Tanzer Gallery. The Melbourne sky was dark grey and the sun was nowhere to be seen.

As I quaffed red wine and chatted at the opening I kept on hearing the word ‘photorealism’. Even though Andrew Gaynor had written, in the exhibition notes, that: “Ford treads the tightrope between faithful reproduction and psychological tremor, referencing photography but moving beyond photo-realism”. I want to quash this misclassification. Juan Ford’s paintings have nothing to do with photorealism. Photorealism is a specific style of painting that is characterized by hyperrealism, photographic precision and a focus on banal everyday scenes. Hans Holbein or Jusepe de Ribera or many other painters create pictures with photographic precision without being called photorealist. To call Ford’s paintings photorealist, and not Holbein’s, is the fallacy of post hoc ergo hoc (after therefore caused by) simply because they are painted post 1970. Ford’s paintings have nothing to do with photorealism: they are not hyperrealist and there is nothing banal about the subjects.

The subjects of Ford’s paintings are far from banal; they are haunting, almost allegorical. Titles like “A Glitch in the System” or an “An Orbit’s Conclusion” are certainly not banal. Ford’s anamorphic image of a galaxy seen in the curved surface of a trophy is the opposite of banal.

The paintings on exhibition at the Dianne Tanzer Gallery are of similar subjects to those that Juan Ford exhibited in “Inverted World”, at Jan Manton Art in Brisbane in November 2007. At the time I published an interview with Juan Ford in my old blog.

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