Category Archives: Public Sculpture

Lost Wax Workshop @ Meridian

Although I have written a book about public sculpture I have never done any sculpting. Last weekend I went to Melbourne’s oldest sculpture foundry, Meridian for one of their workshops in the lost wax technique.

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When the sculptor Peter Corlett first took me to see Meridian I was amazed that there was a sculpture foundry just off Johnston Street in Fitzroy. Looking around the foundry there are sculptures in progress and moulds for sculptures by notable sculptors including Peter Corlett, Robert Kippel, Lisa Roet, and Andrew Rogers.

The foundry has been located in a two story nineteenth century brick warehouse, since it was established in 1973 by Peter Morely. It is now in its second generation with Peter Morely’s son, Gareth working at the foundry.

Peter Morely still works part-time often doing his favourite job applying the surface colouring effect to the bronze, the patination on the sculptures. This ranges from traditional black and brown through to green, white or polished.

So Fitzroy hasn’t been completely gentrified, there is still some industry in the suburb. People are still melting down bronze in furnaces and pouring the molten metal into moulds to make sculptures, using techniques that have been developed over the last five millennia.

Although the lost wax casting has been around for millennia techniques in bronze casting have not stopped developing. New synthetic materials are being used from building industry rubber to 3D printing using potato starch. Anything that will cleanly burn away like wax leaving an empty space, the mould into which the bronze will be poured.

Even the traditional bees wax has also been replaced by a synthetic wax with a dark green pigment added. The wax as media is very forgiving because it can be both additive modelled and subtractive carved; so if you make a mistake you can easily stick something back on or cut it off.

I thought that I knew about lost wax technique before the workshop however there is so many steps in the process that you don’t realise until you start. One thing I did know it is a process where you don’t do it all yourself; that part of the job of a sculpture foundry is providing assistance and advice to the sculptor.

Darien Pullen conducted the workshop for three people and myself which allowed for plenty of one on one advice and assistance. Darien is a sculptor who has worked at Meridian since 1984 mostly making moulds and preparing waxes for casting; last year his winged victory statue was unveiled outside the Marrickville Town Hall. He also teaches in life drawing and that helped with my sculpture.

I thought that a small cat sculpture would be a good idea because I had a lot of sketches and photographs of my cats. Cats, like sculpture, are all about volume, the thin creature beneath the hair is a very different creature. Furthermore, I consoled myself, as many people like cats, so any cat sculpture however poor will have some admirers.

At the end of Sunday afternoon I took the wax model home; nobody is expected to complete a model in six hours. I plan to do some more work on it and sandpaper smooth out some of its curves. Eventually each of the workshop participants will have their wax model cast in bronze and a patina applied. None of the workshop participants will be involved in pouring the bronze as there are too many health and safety issues involved to even begin to list.

Black Mark did the workshop courtesy of Meridian.


Frog Pond

The thin frog looks so skinny that you can see its bones. It is not meant to be a particular frog but rather a generic Australian native frog leaping fully extended from the water. An amphibious athlete to match the near-by hammer thrower by John Robinson.

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John Olsen, Frog, 2013 bronze

John Olsen’s Frog, 2013 is installed in the Children’s Pond in the Queen Victoria Gardens. The two metre tall bronze frog was unveiled on Wednesday 16 December 2016.

The pond is named after two other sculptures, John Robinson’s Water Children (c.1970) is a bronze sculpture of two children, a boy and a girl, playing amongst the rocks at the source of the pond. It amongst some of the most sentimental sculpture in Melbourne. However, the source of the pond is now a damp bowl and the fountain has been turned off and this post is about Olsen’s Frog and not Robinson’s Water Children, which were modelled on his own children.

John Olsen is well know for his paintings of frogs but he is not widely know as a sculptor. When a major artist like him want to make a sculpture there are people who can help you produce a saleable work that would look attractive in a millionaire’s garden.

Olsen’s Frog is a gift from the property developer Eddie Kutner (Wonderment Walk) to the City of Melbourne in recognition of the work that the city has done in capturing, purifying and reusing stormwater. Water is a reoccurring theme in Melbourne’s sculptures with the first public sculpture Charles Summers, River God commissioned by the council to celebrate Melbourne’s water supply.

About a century earlier another businessmen, Theodore Fink donate two busts to Queen Victoria Gardens. Since then it has slowly been filling with mostly gift sculpture.

But thinking now about the frog; since I have been writing this blog I have been noticing many animals in contemporary art, from taxidermy specimens to drawings of animals. Taxidermy animals in particularly figure prominently in contemporary art. For more on this subject see my posts on taxidermy and contemporary art, and Why look at Dead Animals.

The answer to my question came in Janine Burke’s “The elephant in the room: Uses and misuses of animals in curatorial practice” Art Monthly Australia (Issue 280, June 2015) examines the nexus of animals and contemporary art attributing this to a massive shift in contemporary thinking that challenges the binary human and animal distinction. Burke attributes this to philosophers including: Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guttari, Jacques Derrida and Peter Singer.

Humans are feeling more comfortable accepting that they are another animal amongst many. The family of ducks inhabiting the ponds with the sculpture, watching the ducklings explore the pond. Contemporary art’s interest in the soft sciences, zoology and biology, as well as, the social sciences may be a reaction to the high modernist interested in the hard sciences like physics and chemistry.


Sculpture Walk and other public sculptures

Public sculpture in Melbourne has changed dramatically in style, materials, locations and numbers. Join me in a walk to view sculptures around the city from the 18th to the 21st centuries and learn about how the art of sculpture has evolved through the years. Ticket price includes morning tea at the Melbourne Writers Festival Club at ACMI at the conclusion of the walk. Book at the Festival’s website.

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A sculpture tour takes shelter under Vault during a sudden shower.

While I am writing a post about public sculptures I thought that I could mention two small war memorials that didn’t mention in my book, Sculptures of Melbourne and won’t be on my sculpture walk.

WWII Nurses Memorial

Raymond Ewers, Memorial to WWII nurses

The memorial to WWII nurses outside Fawkner Towner on St. Kilda Road (431 St. Kilda Road) that was re-landscaped in 2012. The memorial consists of a bronze plaque on a stone and bronze bust in a niche. The bust is of a composite, idealised nurse. The memorial is by Raymond Ewers who created several of Melbourne’s memorials, including the Sir Thomas Blamey Memorial, 1958, in Kings Domain and the bronze bas-relief for the John F. Kennedy Memorial Fountain,1965. Although there is nothing now connecting the area to nurses, there was an earlier connection, as it was the site of the Nurses Memorial Centre. I have written about other of Ewers sculptures in my book but there are so many other war memorials in Melbourne that it would have made for a very dull read to write about all of them.

R. George Summers, Brunswick Beor War Memorial, 1903 2

R. George Summers, Boer War Memorial

Brunswick’s Boer War memorial by the sculptor, R. George Summers of Carlton (no relation to the Charles Summers who made the Burke and Wills Monument in the city square) was originally located in front of the Court House. The figure and the monument was originally intended for Private S.J. Barnard, however Chairman of the committee wanted it more inclusive, to honour both the 69 returned soldiers and the four dead from Brunswick. The memorial was then relocated to the Brunswick Town Hall, before it was moved to its current location, on the traffic island tram stop at the start of Sydney Road, around 1925.


More of Melbourne’s Public Sculptures

More of Melbourne’s public sculptures that aren’t in Sculptures of Melbourne. My book was never intended to be a catalogue of Melbourne’s sculpture. In writing a history I could not include every example. The Melbourne City Council has 100 sculptures and 80 monuments, not including privately owned sculptures on public display, nor those owned by institutions like the Arts Centre or Melbourne University and RMIT. Then there are all the sculptures in the suburbs of greater Melbourne. So here are a few more that aren’t in my book, and haven’t yet been mentioned in this blog.

Nadim Karam,The Travellers, 2005 (3)

Nadim Karam, The Travellers, 2005-6

A large prominent series of sculpture that I didn’t mention are The Travellers, 2005-6 by the multidisciplinary artist and architect, Nadim Karam. Karam has made similar sculptures for cities around the world, so he was a safe choice for a major commission.

The steel figures parade across the Sandridge bridge, some with little wind propellers turning. The figures are meant to represent migration to Australia. On the south bank of the Yarra is Gayip, the stainless steal spiral headed figure with wings perched on a rock on the South bank, represents both the indigenous Aboriginal population and a gathering point for the travellers. It is dubious that any of this well intended meaning is obvious to the thousands of people who see it every day.

The Gayip figure was designed by Karam in collaboration with Mandy Nicholson, a member of the Wurundjeri-willam clan of the Kulin Nation. Nicholson, an RMIT graduate also designed the petroglyphs at Birrarung Wilam and Kirrip Wurrung Biik.

Konstantin Dimopolulos “Red Centre” 2006 06

Konstantin Dimopoulos, Red Centre, 2006

Federation Square is often used for temporary sculpture exhibitions and because of all the temporary events there is only one permanent sculpture at Federation Square. Like a tussock of grass the red coated steel stems of Konstantin Dimopoulos Red Centre 2006, move, rattle and sways. Red Centre takes some of Len Lye, the master of kinetic sculptures ideas and expands them into a post minimalist sculpture.

Since creating Red Centre the Egypt-born and Melbourne-based sculpture artist, Dimopoulos has created a ”social art action” with blue trees painted with environmentally safe, ultramarine blue pigment to raise awareness of deforestation. This series started in 2005 with Sacred Grove – The Blue Forest commissioned by the City of Melbourne. It continued in cities in New Zealand, Canada and the USA. From blue trees and red poles Dimopoulos continues to work with colours and social issues with Black Parthenon 2009 and The Purple Rain 2015.

Pauline Fraser, Wind Contrivance,1995

Pauline Fraser, Wind Contrivance, 1995

At the Victoria Market there is Pauline Fraser’s Wind Contrivance, 1995. With the wheel it almost looks industrial were it not for the scattering of bronze pumpkin, aboriginal fish trap and other items. The mix of materials, stone, bronze and wood, further confuses the meaning. The meaning of the sculpture, like its materials and parts are scattered. It was acquired when the market was refurbished as part of the percent for the arts. It is located in an odd position half way up Therry Street. Children climb on it and its low plinth is often used as a seat by people eating take-away food from the market.

The sculptor, Fraser has a series of bronze sculptures with a clearer meaning marking the entrance to the Altona Pier. On six corten steel plinths is a bronze leatherjacket fish,  a cuttlefish, a sea horse, a shell and a large crab. “Seaborn” 2005 makes reference to the diversity of marine life in Port Philip Bay.


Moving Sculptures In Melbourne

Although stone and metal sculptures might appear to be permanent and stationary they do move. They are slow to start moving but once they start they move with surprising speed. Sculptures move around the city, even around the world, climbing down from the tops of old buildings to go to university. Urban Melbourne has a page about sculptures that have moved generally due to demolitions. So now that Strata has found a safe new home, out of hands of Melbourne University to the MONA in Hobart, it is time to look moving sculptures in Melbourne that may be soon moved.

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John Cummins has an audio report in The Citizen about preserving Melbourne’s public art where he interviews Adrian Doyle of Blender Studios, Ken Scarlett author of Australian Sculptors, ghost sign expert Stefan Schutt, sculptor Petrus Spronk and myself.

On Collins Street Stanley Hammond’s 1978 statue of John Batman, one of the alleged founder of Melbourne, is keeping his head down these days. He can still just be seen from behind the temporary building hoarding. His companion sculpture, another early Melbourne land owner, John Pascoe Fawkner by Michael Meszaros is outside of this fence.

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Jackie Ralph, Horse with something to say, 2013

Another sculpture with an uncertain future stands in the roundabout on Siddeley Street out the front of Melbourne’s World Trade Centre is Jackie Ralph’s Horse with something to say, 2013. The black expressionist work by Ralph has remained in the middle of the roundabout since it was installed at a temporary sculpture exhibition. It is not uncommon for a sculpture to remain after an exhibitions because of the expense of transportation, another sculptural gift of this kind is Ship to Shore at the Coburg Lake Reserve. Ralph’s horse will not be difficult to move as it is made from wood, wire, fiberglass, polyester resin and enamel paint.

Brunswick-based sculptor, Ralph wrote, in an exhibition statement; “When sculpture leaves the gallery and becomes part of the landscape, it not only reaches a larger and more diverse audience, but people seem to have a much more unguarded, unrestrained approach to it and interact with it more informally and naturally.”

I saw some new sculptures in Melbourne by an unknown artist. These sculptures will be very temporary and the creators of these works of street art knows that.


Public Sculptures – a tourists guide

Public Sculptures in Melbourne by Gera Tonge and Stanley Hammond M.B.E. is a 24 page pamphlet printed on green A4 paper, folded to A5 size, and bound with two staples. Published around 1985 it is a fascinating time slice through the history of Melbourne’s public sculpture. Thanks to William Eicholtz for this generous little gift.

Basically the pamphlet contains two pages on “Methods and materials used in producing public sculpture”, a list of 100 sculptures, a map of their locations and biographies of  some of the sculptors. It is illustrated with black and white photographs of some of the sculptures.

As a subtitle the pamphlet declares that it was intended as “a tourists guide”. The map is divided into three locations that are suggested “as a walking guide” “which can each be explored easily on foot.”

  1. Spring Street, East Melbourne and Fitzroy Area
  2. The City, University and Exhibition Buildings Area
  3. Kings Domain, Shrine and St. Kilda Road Area

Several sculptures are no longer in their original locations, others have moved and the total number of sculptures in these areas has doubled in the thirty years since the pamphlet’s publication.

It appears to be self published. Although there is no date it is after the move the Vault to the banks of the Yarra 1983. The controversy over Vault piqued Melbourne’s interest in public sculpture and may have been an additional motivation for publication.

Stanley Hammond knew the history of sculptures in Melbourne because he had lived it most of it. Born in Trentham Stan had started off as a stone mason working on the Shrine Remembrance before becoming one of Orlando Dutton and then Paul Montford’s assistants. Hammond made many war memorials during his career, including the lions at the Boer War Memorial on St. Kilda Road. He also made the figure of John Batman near the corner of Collins and Market Streets.


Save Strata!

Melbourne University has a fine tradition of acquiring, for very little cost, sculptures that are surplus to the requirements of Melbourne’s business world. Many architectural sculptures from the 19th Century “marvellous Melbourne” found new homes at Melbourne University. The demolition of old commercial buildings and the removal of their sculptures has added to the university’s collection. Urban Melbourne has a page about sculptures that have moved generally due to demolitions.

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Chris Booth, Strata, 2001

This tradition continues today with the university acquiring the sculptures in the AXA Plaza in Little Collins Street. Several sculptures will be displaced by construction including the works of Peter and Paul Blizzard and, New Zealand sculptor, Chris Booth’s massive stone assembly (400cm x 1000cm x 35cm), Strata, 2001.

Booth is known internationally and has major commissions in Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand. Strata is typical of Booth’s work with stone. The stones are bound together with stainless steel cable to create the curved sculptural form. The sculpture is tied to the land for on the Castlemaine slate there are petroglyph by aboriginal artist, Fiona Clarke.

The problem is that Melbourne University has agreed to take Strata but not pay for it to be reassembled by the artist. Chris Booth describes this as “an act of vandalism” for it  is no better than the complete destruction of the sculpture. For without reassembly Strata is nothing more than a pile of rocks. It doesn’t come with pages of interactions and an Allen key from Ikea; not that would help, it needs the artist to reassemble it.

Urgent action is required as the dismantling of the sculpture is due to start in a week. Chris Booth is requesting that the Melbourne University reconsider their decision. It is all very well for Melbourne University to accept Paul Blizzard’s Fossil Stones because it can easily moved and plopped in a new location. However, as Booth points out, “as the University of Melbourne has accepted these three works into its keeping it has a legal and moral duty to protect them for posterity.”

The Moral Rights provisions in the Copyright Act, under section 195AT, states that 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.

For more about this issue see my earlier post: Redevelopments and Public Sculpture.

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The forecourt on Lt. Collins Street


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