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Clement Meadmore, a mid-century modern hipster

With his well-groomed full beard and neatly barbered hair Clement Meadmore looked like a hipster. Except this was in 1950s Melbourne. In the photograph he is sitting on a mid-century modernist chair, one of his earliest designs, the steel rod and corded dining chair created in 1951.

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“Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design” at the Potter Museum of Art is a survey exhibition about Meadmore as a designer rather than a sculptor for which he is better known. Dean Keep and Jeromie Maver’s exhibition starts with Meadmore entering Melbourne Technical College (now RMIT) and ends in 1963 with the last chair he designed, his leather Sling Chair, and his moving to NYC to do abstract sculpture. It focuses on Meadmore’s furniture design along with his interest in jazz and his early sculpture development.

It is also a look at how modern Melbourne was created. Meadmore’s design of the Legend Espresso and Milk Bar at 239 Burke Street, chairs, lamps and decor. Including seven large abstract paintings by Leonard French that glow with radiant colours. French also designed the matchbooks, menus and cups for the Legend. This exhibition is a must-see for anyone enthusiastic about the early Australian jazz scene. Meadmore had more than just a passing interest in jazz, a photo of him playing the washboard in 1952 with thimbles on his fingers. A wall of record covers that he designed for Swaggie Records.

Meadmore’s designs were practical and pragmatic both for the designer, manufacturer and the consumer. It was important for the designs to be practical for the manufacturer because often he and his wife were making the machine-made modern aesthetic by hand out the back of their shop. It was an efficiency and pragmatism that he continued with his sculptures that could be transported in shipping containers.

Clement Meadmore, Devish

Clement Meadmore, Devish

NYC was the right place for Meadmore to go as it had jazz and abstract art whereas both were still derided in Melbourne. It was the attitude of conservative figurative artists, including Blackman, Boyd, Brack, Dickinson, Perceval and Pugh who provided additional incentive to leave. If Meadmore was living in Melbourne today I’m sure that he would not have left as he would be able to have an international career as an abstract sculptor and be enjoying the jazz scene. 

Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design

Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design

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About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

5 responses to “Clement Meadmore, a mid-century modern hipster

  • joanne bos

    Thanks Mark, very interesting. I must go and have a look at this exhibition.

  • Eugene

    Dervish has always been a fave of mine. It even popped up in a uni essay I did. Do you know if it’s always been in this location next to the arts centre/river?

    • Mark Holsworth

      Hi Eugene, Good to know that there are Meadmore fans. I know that Dervish was not always in its current position. It is hard to remember the previous location because so much has changed with access to the river but I think that it was on the street level next to Hamer Hall. It is owned by the Arts Centre, rather than the City of Melbourne.

  • Mark Holsworth (@melb_art_critic)

    Hi Eugene, Good to know that there are Meadmore fans. I know that Dervish was not always in its current position. It is hard to remember the previous location because so much has changed with access to the river but I think that it was on the street level next to Hamer Hall. It is owned by the Arts Centre, rather than the City of Melbourne.

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