Tag Archives: sculpture

Fantastical Janet Beckhouse

What if I’d reviewed “Fantastical – the art of Janet Beckhouse” Hunter S. Thompson style? Drop a tab of acid. Run the gauntlet of election campaigners at the entrance to the all-white suggestion of a town hall. “I’m not here to vote.” Inside the Box Hill Town Hall, I located Artspace and started to look at the glazed stoneware sculptures as the first notes of Jimmie Hendrix’s Purple Haze play.

The Four Elements, 2004/5

It would have been intense. When every other artist was going minimalist, Beckhouse went the other way. In her Master’s graduation piece, Grotto (1998) realistic lizards, poisonous frogs and fat caterpillars crawl amongst the glazed ceramic foliage. It is all alive and significant, vivaciously writhing with life.

A refined version of fantasy art for stoners with a gothic taste. A snake crawls out of the eye of a skull and worms from the mouth of a corpse buried in a garden. There is ambiguity, are those shells or leaves, worms or twigs. In The Mystery of Love, a woman auto-impales herself with a spike.

Beckhouse’s works are supported by two structures mythology and ceramic forms. Using these structures to compose. Mythology gives structure to her themes, just as ceramic forms structure her work. Some of the pieces look almost practical as vases and platters.

She knew that death is part of life, part of the symbolism of creative and destructive aspects of the feminine. Mythology gives depth and power to her work. The mother of all monsters dwells in the depths of the ocean. There are lots of references to the sea, coral and shells. Why have the flared nostrils of that person grown seashells?

It was then I saw the vase with the bats.

“My work and creative interest have become all-encompassing over the years. I realise I do not wish to do anything else. It gives me peace, comfort and meaning in my life, and to share it is a joy.” Janet Beckhouse (1955-2020)

Beckhouse was Melbourne’s foremost ceramic artist until her sudden and unexpected death in 2020. This is her final exhibition, twenty pieces spanning her career as an artist.

Whitehorse City Council has bought two works for their collection of the work of Australian and international ceramic artists. Some of the collection is on permanent exhibition in a small adjoining gallery.

Beckhouse moulded the gods and demons out of the dust of the earth. Using alchemical processes and elemental forces, she turned base matter into lustrous gold. Creating ceramic sculptures seething with the neo-Baroque complexity, transformative drama, and the acid intensity of a Hendrix’s solo.


Half a century of sculpture

Cleaning up the house, I found a Bicentennial Schools Memento belonging to my wife, a kind of medal, like a large silver coin. It was given to all Australian school students in 1988. The obverse was designed by M. Meszaros and the reverse by M. Tracey. I don’t know who M. Tracey is, but I know of M. Meszaros.

Michael Meszaros (b.1945) is a sculptor with half a century of work and an extensive portfolio of making public sculptures and medals. Sculpture is a tradition in the Meszaros family. His father, Andor Mészáros (1900-1972), was a sculptor and medalist, and his niece, Anna Meszaros, is also a sculptor. Michael Meszaros is still working in the same studio in Kew that his father built.

I have seen many of his public sculptures around Melbourne and some of his other medals at the Melbourne Museum. Making medals have been a constant feature of his career, the earliest was in 1963. His medals are somewhere between sculpture and jewellery, between coins and plaques. His design for the Bicentennial memento has a group of people moving to the horizon under the southern cross; the group of people is repeated in many of his sculptures. Groups of people and the connections between people are a significant theme in Meszaros’ art.

Michael Meszaros, Elected Representative, bronze, 2017

I haven’t seen his small private sculptures before the retrospective exhibition; “50 Years as a Sculptor”. The exhibition includes free-standing sculptures, wall-mounted medals, wall-mounted portrait medals, commissioned medals (including the Bicentennial Memento) and photographs of commissioned sculptures.

In August 2021, due to the last Covid lockdown, the exhibition at the Hawthorn Arts Centre to celebrate Michael Meszaros’ 50-year career closed after 3 days. The show could not reopen, but it was installed on Level 11 at Owen Dixon Chambers East in 2022. Meszaros’ sculptures were an appropriate scale for the wide corridors lined with lawyers’ offices and overlooking the dome of the Supreme Court.

His abstract sculptures were often made from brass and copper, trying to resolve the long tail of modernism in Australia. His most recent works, bronze trees, are an elegant compromise between his figurative and abstract work.

There are plenty of versions of interlocking figures on exhibition representing politicians through to lovers. The interlocking figures join the repeating patterns of fish, horses, sailboats, and trees. His work ranges between minimal elegant visual communication and obvious kitsch sentiment. Would I look at it if this was a drawing and not a sculpture?

How to access a lifetime of sculpture? Meszaros has thought of this: two small brass staircases in brass, one narrows at the top, the other at the bottom – Success and Failed Ambition.

I was surprised by how many exhibitions there were at Owen Dixon Chambers when I visited. I don’t normally look at art in legal chambers and here were three exhibitions. For as well as Meszaros on Level 11, there were two more in the lobby. There was a temporary exhibition by French photographer Mohamed Bourouissa (part of the Photo 2022 festival) and a permanent exhibition of portraits of lawyers by some notable artists, including one by Juan Ford and a video portrait by Sean Gladwell.

Portrait exhibition in lobby

Unmissable

It is Unmissable, a giant bronze face of a man. The centre of the face is bright as if spot lite. He is looking out from the side of Readings Books on Lygon Street in Carlton. Who is it? Why is it there?

Pimpisa Tinpalit, Unmissable (Attila Bogat)

On the wall beneath the face, a plaque provides an explanation.

“Attila Bogat has been missing since 2014 and has been made Unmissable by artist Pimpisa Tinpalit. Missing Persons Advocacy Network (MPAN) launched The Unmissables to reignite the search. By going beyond the vital statistics – capturing the essence and telling the unfinished stories of our missing loved ones.”

The sculptor, Pimpisa Tinpalit, is the director of BlackCat Gallery in Collingwood. The Missing Persons Advocacy Network (MPAN) launched a campaign three years ago to use public art to draw attention to missing people. This is not the only piece that they have commissioned; Heesco has painted a mural for them. But it is the only one that I’ve photographed and looked closely at.

Have you seen this man? Some statues commemorate recognisable famous people, others attempt to make a person more recognisable, but this is a statue about looking for someone who is missing. Instead of celebrating, glorifying, and deifying, this is a public sculpture about searching. It is a bit of a change from the usual missing person advert. It is a more present, practical, and ominously more, permanent.

And I know that in the course of researching this blog post, I’m going to see the statistics for missing persons. But like Unmissable, do those numbers capture the essence and tell the unfinished stories of missing people like Attila Bogat? Can we really comprehend the idea of so many families and friends?

Attila Bogat is still missing.


Four works of public art

Considering four works of public art with differences in funding, permanence, and relationship to place, as well as techniques and materials. All of them are associated with the complex of hospitals in the inner Melbourne suburb of Parkville.

There is some recent yarn bombing by Yarn Corner on the trees in front of Royal Melbourne Hospital on Royal Parade and outside the Royal Women’s Hospital on Flemington Road. A thank-you to the hospital staff during the pandemic. This collective, co-operative community work, includes one of the best pieces of yarn bombing that I have ever seen. This was not mindless, meditative knitting but a work planned from the start with a vision of how it would look on a tree in Parkville. It is a temporary installation that interacts with the built and natural environment and, in that respect, is specific to the location.

Micheal Meszaros, Irreparable Loss of Potential, 2015

Micheal Meszaros, Irreparable Loss of Potential, 2015 is a permanent sculpture commissioned by the Dyson Bequest to commemorate the anniversary of Gordon Clunes MacKay’s death Mathison, a doctor and talented medical researcher, from wounds in WW1. It is another in his series of sculptures at the front of the Royal Women’s Hospital and Medical Building at the University of Melbourne. The series emphasises the collaborative, team effort that is at the core of medical science. The sculpture is not site-specific. It is now in its second location near the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute entrance.

Bruce Armstrong The Next Day 1990

Next to Meszaros’ sculpture at the entrance of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute is Bruce Armstrong The Next Day 1990. It is was purchased as a complete statue from Armstrong with funds donated by Dame Elizabeth Murdoch. A seated figure, solid and substantial, head bowed, reflecting inward; its archetypal form would speak to many people. Carved in a subtractive process from logs of red gum. The massive pieces of wood used are found material that Armstrong has salvaged. Other Armstrong sculptures around Melbourne include the well known Eagle on Wurundjeri Way. Armstrong is one of Melbourne’s public art giants. For more on his sculpture, see my blog post.

Holly O’Brien, Hope

Just across Royal Parade on the University of Melbourne’s grounds is one of the Me and UooUoo sculpture trail. It is connected to my hospital sculpture theme because it is “the Royal Children’s Hospital Anniversary Art Trail”. Me and UooUoo are temporarily plonked down and don’t interact with the built or natural environment. Painted by local artists on the same round Uoo Uoo form, these sculptures form a trail, but you couldn’t walk it as it goes all the way to Geelong. This attractively painted one is Hope by Holly O’Brien, a final year student at Templestowe College. Among the many artists involved in this project, several street artists were involved, including Manda Lane, Mike Makatron, Be Free, and Ghostpatrol. And the corporate sponsorship, the art wash, is prominently displayed along the base.


Street Art Sculpture 11

This has been a big year for unauthorised public sculptural artwork; both for little and larger works, veterans and novices.

The Little Librarian up-cycles old books into new art using books for the support for the tiny installations. Unlike Tinky, The Little Librarian doesn’t use puns. The old books used would have been thrown out but have been made into something before being placed on walls. They don’t last long outside, due to the weather and, I assume, being ripped off by a passer-by. Tinky has continued to install miniature scenes on the street. Still, she is not the only street artist in Melbourne using HO scale figures.

There is a golden young woman’s head on a slender concrete plinth on the island inhabited by ibis in Coburg’s Lake Reserve. Last year a similar golden head of a man appeared atop a similar concrete plinth in Northcote’s All Nations Park (The Age reports).

The new sculpture’s placement on the island must have been strategically tricky as there is no bridge. This location avoids the Northcote bust’s problems whose plinth was knocked over shortly after it was installed. The Darebin Council restored it, deciding that it would remain in place for a year and then be auctioned with the proceeds donated to homelessness services. 

Elsewhere in a city mainly under quarantine lockdown for much of year children created spoonvilles. These settlements of decorated wooden spoons are open contribution sculptural works that invite others to participate. 

Some graffiti writers, like Cheros, expand their techniques, creating three-dimensional tags.

And ceramic works continues to feature as one of the more surprising mediums for street art be it from Discarded or other, unknown artists.

For more about unauthorised public sculptures see my earlier posts:


Mimovich’s sculptures in Kew

Last year on Christmas morning, the ninety-nine-year old artist Leopoldine (Poldi) Mimovich died aged 99. This year Australia Post’s Christmas 2020 stamp features a painting by Mimovich. A madonna and child surrounded by Australian fauna and flora, illustrating Mimovich’s desire to adapt Christian images to Australia. Mimovich is best known for her Catholic liturgical sculptures which is why I hadn’t heard of her before I walked through Alexandra Gardens in Kew.

According to the bronze plaque in the garden, Mimovich gave the city ten sculptures in 1990. Her house and studio, at 33 Miller Road, was only a fourteen-minute walk away.

The sculptures are scattered around the garden: groups of children, a girl with a rabbit, a woman, a seated man with a long beard that flows over his foot. I could only find seven and one of them was concealed in the foliage so I wouldn’t be surprised if the other three were also hidden in the undergrowth.

Can you see the sculpture?

Unlike most of Mimovich’s sculptures, the ones in the public gardens have a secular theme. Like all of Mimovich’s sculptures, the figures have simplified forms, typical of mid-twentieth-century modernism. They work well with the garden setting, contributing to the scene a quiet, reflective mood.

During her very long life, she made many religious sculptures, and when she was no longer able to sculpt, she painted icons. In 1985 she received an Order of Australia Medal for services to sculpture. And in 1996 her experience as a post-war migrant coming to Australia was told in an episode of SBS’s series: Tales from a Suitcase.

Museums Victoria has a short biography of her: Leopoldine Mimovich, Austrian Migrant & Artist, 1949 by Stevenson, M. and McFadzean, M. (2010) This biography does miss one dramatic moment in her life. In 2014 her house caught fire in the afternoon as she dozed in her reclining armchair. She was rescued, unharmed, by three neighbours, but many of her sculptures were smoke damaged.


The Big Walking Stick

Big things are probably not the right place to start when looking at public art, but they are hard not to notice. However, there is something different about the giant (7 m tall) walking stick in Kew. It rarely gets a mention compared to the Big Pineapple, the Big Marino and the proposals for the Big Bong for the northern New South Wales town of Woodenbong.

Peter Schipperheyn, Grip of Time, 1978

The fibreglass and wood big walking stick at Kew Library is an odd figurative work; somewhere between kitsch and post-modernism, between Claes Oldenburg’s big things and a piece by Maurizio Cattelan. It is one of Melbourne’s stranger public sculptures and was a weird mystery until I learnt something of its history.

It was an early work by a sculptor young sculptor, Peter Schipperheyn. Schipperheyn is still based-in Melbourne and sculpting, often large, always representational and figurative sculptures, now carved in marble (see my post on his more recent work ).

In 1978 Schipperheyn was still studying fine art at the Caulfield Institute of Technology when he won the Abercrombie Sculpture Prize for a monumental sculpture design. The Abercombie Sculpture Prize was an open competition from Abercrombie gallery. Back in the 70s, there were fewer sculptors in Melbourne, and open art prizes were sometimes won by art students; it never happens now.

Schipperheyn’s youth explains both the pop realist style and the tasteless undergrad humour of the title of the work that was, at the time, Senility. The fibreglass part of the sculpture was probably made on campus. Did he also submit it for assessment that year? 

It was initially installed on the exterior wall of the Abercrombie Gallery in Johnston Street, Collingwood. But when Laurel Abercrombie closed her gallery, she gave the sculpture to the city of Kew.

It was relocated to the outer wall of the Kew Library where it works well with the bare brick external wall. It was renamed Grip of Time; as Senility was no longer an appropriate title for a public sculpture.

Unlike most public art, there is no intended meaning to his big walking stick. Is it poking fun at or supporting the elderly and frail? The different names for the sculpture suggest that the no-one, not even Schipperheyn, is sure. And it is this ambiguity that has saved the work.

In 1997 there was restoration work done on the sculpture by the artist and a new pole was donated by Citipower. Currently, the big walkings stick is a bit overgrown and some unsympathetic planted trees need to be pruned.


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