Category Archives: Public Sculpture

Sculptors & Stonemasons

This post is based on the tours that I gave to publicise the publication of my book, Sculptures of Melbourne earlier this year. Most of the examples can be found around Gordon Reserve at Parliament Station.

Bertram Mackennal, allegorical relief, 1888  Victoria’s Parliament House

Bertram Mackennal, allegorical relief, 1888 Victoria’s Parliament House

I was asked on one of my sculpture tours if Bertram Mackennal would have been a better sculptor if he hadn’t spent so much time working on commissions. I replied that I didn’t think that he would have been a sculptor at all if not for all the commissions.

Sir Bertram Mackennal, was born in Fitzroy the son of a sculptor and architectural modeller. His father supervised the architectural ornamentation on Victoria’s Parliament House and in 1888 Bertram Mackennal did two panels for Parliament House. Mackennal became Australia’s first international star artist exhibiting at the Royal Academy, the Paris Salon and doing portraits of British kings.

If Mackennal were alive today he would not be a sculptor. He would have been making pop music, films or something where good money can be made by a talented hard worker.

Bertram Mackennal, Sir William John Clarke Memorial, 1902

Bertram Mackennal, Sir William John Clarke Memorial, 1902

In the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century working class stonemasons could see their sons become upper class gentlemen sculptors. The economic power of craftsmen skills is a major factor in breaking down European class system from the Renaissance to the present. The working class lad who became a gentleman, or even a knight, because they were very hard working and very talented.

The stonemasons that built Melbourne, cutting, carving and decorating its buildings had plenty of work for stonemasons and so many could afford to pay for their sons to be better educated and the industrial muscle to demand better working conditions. It was the power of the stonemasons union that could demand an eight hour day in April 1856.

Stanford Fountain

                       Stanford Fountain

Charles Summers and William Stanford were both the sons of Somerset stonemasons who had apprenticeships in stone masonry before coming to Australia for the gold rush. Stanford was more impulsive than Summers. He was sentenced to 22 years for highway robbery and horse stealing completing his fountain in 1870 while still in Pentridge Prison.

Charles Summers had already got his lucky break when he had become an assistant to an English sculptor. After finishing the Burke and Wills Monument in Melbourne Summers moved to Rome where he established a sculpture business, a business that he passed on to his son. Summers sculpture business in Rome sold more sculpture to the Melbourne Public Library and, also to George Lansell, the “Quartz King” of gold rush Bendigo. When Lansell was in Rome he specifically visited the Summers factory where he purchased a considerable number of sculptures.

Charles Summers, Burke and Wills Monument, 1865

Charles Summers, Burke and Wills Monument, 1865

Paul Montford was the son of a sculptor and stonemason and his brother continued his father’s stone mason business in London. He employed many stonemasons and amongst them was Stanley Hammond who went on to become a sculptor himself continuing this tradition well into the twentieth century in Melbourne.

The end of sculpture as a family business marks a change in attitude to sculptors and sculpture and art in general. Art as a family business was common for centuries, three generations of the Bruegel family painted just as two generations of the Summers or Montford families sculpted. Art changed from a trade with apprenticeships to a vocation, from a matter of situation and birth to a question of character.


More Gift Public Sculptures

The very slim bronze figure of a woman, Miraggio (aka Seated Figure) sits perched on her tall stool watching at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. She sits there her hands folded in her lap, listening in quiet contemplation regardless off whether anyone is performing. The sculpture was Pino Conte, (1915 – 1997 ) an Italian sculptor whose work continues to sell at auction.

Pino Conte, Miraggio

Pino Conte, Miraggio

The date of the sculpture is uncertain as Miraggio came into the city’s public art collection in 1964 when an anonymous ‘Lover of Italy’, possibly Claudio and Lesley Alcorso, donated it to the Sidney Myer Music Bowl Trust and Melbourne City Council. I believe that it was Claudio and Lesley Alcorso for in December 1963, when Conte came to Melbourne to unveil the sculpture, standing next to him at the unveiling were Claudio and Lesley Alcorso. Following the re-landscaping of the Music Bowl, Miraggio was reinstalled in October 2001, in the upper grass audience areas at the Music Bowl.

Maybe I should have had a section on gift sculptures in my book, Sculptures of Melbourne, especially international gifts, see my earlier post. However my book was never intended to be a catalogue of Melbourne’s sculpture; Melbourne City Council itself has 100 sculptures and 80 monuments. But maybe not, I didn’t mention many gift sculptures in the history of public sculpture because gifts, especially the international ones, are generally interventions outside of the history, with all the relevance that birthday presents have to biographies.

Cole Sopov, Family of Man 1, 1984

Cole Sopov, Family of Man 1, 1984

I could have included Cole Sopov Family of Man I and II, 1984, at the Arts Centre. The modernist figures in two family groups are abstracted and reduced to the point of starving refugees. The ribbon bands joining the figures is water not drapery, they are wading ashore in new land; looking to the future, armless and naked. This is how modern art came to Australia, in the minds of post-war European refugees and migrants.

Unusually this pair of sculptures are made of brass not bronze possibly because they were originally intended to be displayed in the foyer. In 1983-84 Sopov were commissioned by John Truscott, the designer of the interior of the Arts Centre for the entrance foyer and moved outside in 2001. The sculptures were a gift of John and Agita Haddard. John Haddard AO is Emeritus Chair of the Board of Governors of the Arts Centre Melbourne Foundation and currently Chairman of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.

Greek-born Sopov arrived Australia 1971 where studied at RMIT 1973 to 1974 before going on to lecturer in Fine Arts at Chisholm college. In 1984 he was the Head of Chisholm Sculpture department (later Monash University) from 1977 to 1995.


Kranky

I have to write about this new and very prolific street artist in Melbourne because they specialise in street art sculpture. Kranky, a crank version of Banksy?

Kranky, Rats

Kranky, Rats

Mixing toys, plastic rats, rat traps, lego men, fake turds, fake CCTV camera; Kanky’s small assemblages are often jokes with references to art and graffiti. Simple, basic, crude but effective visual jokes. It seems to me that Kranky is often making a joke about Banksy’s style, it is so easy, just put a Barbie doll’s head in a rat’s mouth.

Kranky's Selfie Three Businessmen (photo courtesy of Kranky, taken on his cellphone.)

Kranky’s Selfie Three Businessmen (photo courtesy of Kranky, taken on his cellphone.)

I knew that I had to write about Kranky and this was reinforced when I saw StreetsmART’s photo of Kranky’s alteration to The Three Business Men… in early September. The non-destructive alteration of an existing public sculpture is a right of passage for a street artist working in three dimensions from Banksy’s wheel clamp on Bodacia’s chariot to CDH’s Atlas Intervention.

This iconic Melbourne sculpture by Paul Quinn and Alison Weaver, The Three Business Men who brought their own lunch; Batman, Swanston and Hoddle is one of the most photographed sculptures in Melbourne. People are always taking photographs posing with these metal men. Kranky attached lanyards with selfie photos on iPhones on each of the corresponding sculpture’s face. Kranky explained that “it was a privilege, to stand back and observe, the tourists/city visitors/CBD workers, taking a selfie with the sculptures and their selfie. Which was the exact interactive response that I intended.”

Kranky’s work is amongst the most ephemeral of street art sculptures. His works are quickly stolen and only the square bases, with the simple signature mark in san serif capital letters, remain behind. The theft of these pieces shows that someone really wants them (even though they destroy it for others and loose the signature in the process) and Kranky just produces more, individual pieces and multiples. Kranky’s highly ephemeral assemblages stands in contrast to the Junky Projects and casts objects by Will Coles that are covered with many layers of aerosol paint after surviving on the street for years.

Kranky, Barbie doll

Kranky, Barbie doll

Kranky, Catch the Graffiti Police

Kranky, Catch the Graffiti Police

Kranky, Dollar skull

Kranky, Dollar skull

Kranky, Miss You Frida

Kranky, Miss You Frida


Mr Poetry Breaks A Leg

Last month Mr Poetry, the sculpture of the fat man on the corner of Brunswick Street and Argle Street in Fitzroy, was hit by a truck. One leg and part of the plinth were broken in the accident. The outer bronze shell was cracked at the thigh and the steel armature exposed.

Damage to Mr Poetry

The sculpture is now at the Perrin Sculpture Foundry in Cheltenham and Bill Perrin, who originally cast it, is repairing it. Bronze sculptures are repairable, the sculpture was originally welded together from separate parts, the broken leg will be welded back into place and then application of the rust-red patination will conceal the weld.

I spoke to Peter Corlett about the accident. He is philosophical about the damage and told me that this is the second time that the sculpture has been hit by a truck. “These things happen in a vibrant city.” Corlett thinks that the truck was probably doing a three point turn and that the driver was probably watching the plinth in his review mirror but didn’t see the leg sticking out.

Although the figure will be repaired and reinstalled the minor damage to the side of Mr Poetry’s plinth will not be repaired. As the plinth is concrete there would be difficulty in getting the repair to match and Corlett thinks that the slight damage will fit in with the atmosphere of Brunswick Street.

The Yarra City Council has plans to install a bollard on the corner to provide protection for the sculpture in future.

Mr Poetry damaged

Read my earlier post for more on Mr Poetry.

Mr Poetry plinth

Peter Corlett, Mr Poetry


Walking and Thinking about Sculpture

Taking advantage of the winter sunshine on Friday I walked around Melbourne thinking about sculpture. I have to plan my sculpture tour for Melbourne’s Writers Week walking around Melbourne looking at sculptures. I am amazed that I am in Melbourne’s Writers Week with my first book, Sculptures of Melbourne.

Kranky, Miss You Frida

Kranky, Miss You Frida

I am doing a few things to promote my book – I’m writing this blog post and pointing out my up coming events, like Melbourne’s Sculpture Walking Tour on Sunday 23rd August and my talk at Brunswick Public Library on Thursday 10th September. For more details see my events page.

I’m glad that I’ve scouted out the walk as there was test drilling along Swanston Walk for the new underground rail line going on. There was temporary fencing around Akio Makigawa’s Time and Tide. The fencing and drilling rig might be gone by the time of the walk but I probably won’t take the tour that far up Swanston Walk.

Walking up Hosier Lane I noticed that there are more street art sculptures. Lots of new mixed media assemblages by Kranky, including a spectacular painted skull and a lot of rats. From Blek to Banksy rats are a traditional theme for street art.

Kranky, Rats

Kranky, Rats

After my walk around the city I noticed that there was a very small retrospective exhibition of Lenton Parr’s sculptures in the foyer of the NGV Australia. Lenton Parr (1924-2003) was born in Coburg and initially studied engineering. Another engineer – I keep writing about  engineers – see my recent post on Skunk Control; several of Melbourne sculptors started studying engineering (Lenton Parr, Clement Meadmore and Anthony Pryor). Parr was a member of the Centre Five, Melbourne’s modern sculpture group but what surprised me about Parr’s modern steel sculptures was the number of titles with classical references: Perseus, Andromeda, Orion… It seemed that even in the early 1980s the classical names still retained an artist aura. Now, classical references, even in the titles of sculptures, are very rare.

Lenton Parr, Orion

Lenton Parr, Orion


Redevelopments and Public Sculptures

There is constant redevelopment in the CBD, buildings are being torn down and new buildings built, but two redevelopments have caught my attention because of the public sculptures caught up in these developments. Although these sculptures are public, in that they are on premises open to the public, they are privately owned. These are the redevelopment at the 360 Collins Street and 447 Collins Street.

The forecourt on Lt. Collins Street

The forecourt on Lt. Collins Street

My interest in 360 Collins Street is focused on the forecourt area on Little Collins Street where there are several sculptures by Peter Blizzard’s Shrine to the Ancient River, Paul Blizzard’s Fossil Stones and Chris Booth’s Strata. See my blog post.  In 2011 there was a proposal approved for 15-storey development in the forecourt area whereas the present 2015 proposal retains, refurbishes and redevelops part of the forecourt area. For more on the development see Urban Melbourne.

Michael Mezaros, John Pascoe Fawkner, 1978

Michael Mezaros, John Pascoe Fawkner, 1978

Ironically it was a dislodged slab of its marble facade in 2012  that spelt the end for the National Mutual building at 447 Collins Street designed by architects Godfrey, Spowers, Hughes, Mewton & Lobb in 1965. It’s façade of marble slabs was its one notable architectural feature, a move away from the curtain wall of earlier modernism. 447 Collins Street is now vacant and approved for demolition. In the forecourt of 447 Collins Street are the statues of John Batman by Stanley Hammond and John Pascoe Fawkner by Michael Mezaros, see my blog post.

What will happen to the sculptures? The Moral Rights provisions in the Copyright Act in 2000, under section 195AT, the owner of a moveable artistic work is liable to the artist if they destroy the artistic work without first giving the artist opportunity to remove it. The artist or their heirs, as two of the sculptors are now deceased, have the right to be informed about the removal, storage or subsequent reinstallation.

Percival Ball architectural ornaments now the entrance to the carpark at Melbourne Uni

Percival Ball architectural ornaments now the entrance to the carpark at Melbourne Uni

In the past Melbourne University was eager to provide new homes to sculptures dislodged from their original locations in the city, see my blog post. None of the sculptures at either 360 Collins Street or 447 Collins Street are site specific so it should not proved difficult to find a new home for them, if they are not returned to refurbished forecourts at their present locations.


Paul Montford’s Clay Is Still In Use

In the traditional way of making a bronze or stone sculpture a clay model on a wooden or metal armature is first made. A plaster cast is made of the clay model and the clay is pulled off the armature and reused for the next sculpture. The plaster cast is then used to make either a wax model for bronze casting or a plaster model for stone masons to copy. So the clay that Paul Montford used modelled his sculptures, including to create the models for his sculptures at Melbourne’s the Shrine of Remembrance, is still being used by sculptors in Melbourne almost a century later.

Paul Montford, John Wesley, 1935

Paul Montford, John Wesley, 1935

When Montford arrived in Melbourne in 1923 he reported in his first letter (May 12, 1923) to his brother, Louis Montford in London on the availability of materials for sculpture: “no stone that can be carved,” “no bronze founders here worth the name” but “good clay and plaster”. This would suggest that Montford acquired his modelling clay locally after he arrived. (Catherine Moriarty Making Melbourne’s Monuments – the Sculpture of Paul Montford, Australian Scholarly, 2013, p.82)

In other letters Paul tells his brother about the difficulties in keeping clay wet in Melbourne’s summer heat. In one letter (Jan, 1926) he reports hosing the cloth covered model for the Desert Mounted Corps Memorial because using “a syringe was too slow”. (Moriarty, p.118)

Due to a bizarre treatment for tonsillitis Paul Montford died of radium poisoning in 1938. At the time radium was still considered as a potential wonder drug. And his modelling clay was passed on to his assistant Stanley Hammond, who would have used to the clay to model his many sculptures from the lions at the Boer War Memorial on St. Kilda Road to his statue of John Batman on Collins Street.

Stanley Hammond, John  Batman Memorial, 1978

Stanley Hammond, John Batman Memorial, 1978

I lost track of Montford’s clay after Stanley Hammond death in 2000, at the age of 87. I heard a rumour that Louis Laumen had the clay but that turned out not to be true. I was disappointed not be able to trace this modelling clay from the Montford to the present as it would have given an unusual narrative thread to the first chapter of my book, Sculptures of Melbourne, but it was not essential to the history.

Then on the first day of my promotional walking tours for my book I was given the answer. Some of the Montford’s clay is now in the possession of William Eicholtz and is still being used to model sculptures, including Courage. Thanks Will.

William Eicholtz, Courage, 2014

William Eicholtz, Courage, 2014


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