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Tag Archives: bronze sculpture

Religious Statues in Melbourne

Public sculptures of religious figures are becoming more common in Melbourne. A decade ago there were hardly any but recent commissions seem to have doubled their numbers. The cynical psychologist in me suggests that the erecting permanent statue is a compensation for the decline in religion’s status in Melbourne. I use the word statue, rather than sculpture, because all of them are life-sized realistic figures made of bronze.

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Darien Pullen, Fr. Patrick Bonaventure Geoghegan, 2017

Darien Pullen’s statue of Fr. Patrick Bonaventure Geoghegan (1805-1864) the first Catholic priest in colonial Melbourne, stands with his hand outstretched in a blessing. Installed in 2017 in front of the oldest Catholic church in Melbourne, St Francis Church on Elizabeth Street. The sculptor, Pullen has worked at Meridian Sculpture Foundry since 1984 where he mostly assists in the modelling area. This is the second life size statue of a religious figure that Pullen has made; in 2015 he was commissioned to make a statue of St Patrick, for Australian Catholic University, Melbourne Campus.

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Louis Laumen Mary MacKillop 2012

Louis Laumen’s Mary MacKillop 2012, Catholic university depicts a young female figure plain 19th Century dress. The figure is on a conversation bench; you can sit down next to Mary, if you can squeeze in between the her and dove, but it looks like she is just getting up. She is about to put her book down and stand up. She is looking towards her birth place across the road. It is also a reference to images of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, with the dove to symbolise the Holy Spirit. In the middle of Australian Catholic University’s new St Mary of the Cross Square on Brunswick Street that connects to the University. Laumen is best known for his statues of sporting heroes at the MCG, has done other sculptures for the Catholic church, including a previous Mary MacKillop for Penola College in Victoria and St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. Laumen finds the church’s commissions were less restrictive than those for the MCG.

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Julie Squires, St Mary of the Cross McKillop, 2012

St Mary of the Cross McKillop, 2012 by Julie Squires is installed at the new St Mary of the Cross Mausoleum at Melbourne General Cemetery. A life-sized statue of a nun, an older Mary MacKillop, embracing a little girl. The plinth puts the two figures at eye level for the average viewer. The use of different patinas on the sculpture adds to both the realism and increases the sentimental nature of the sculpture. Its sculptor Squires has taken over from Laumen in sculpting the sporting heroes around the MCG; after all sport is the major religion of most Australians.

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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.


Ballet sculptures in Melbourne

In December I was walking passed the Arts Centre in Melbourne when I noticed some new sculptures being installed at the top end of lawn. Actually I first recognised the small spider-like crane of  J.K. Fansham Pty Ltd, that I last saw installing Louise Paramor’s Ursa Major, before I saw the sculpture.

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David Maughan, Les Belle Hélène, 2015

Les Belle Hélène by David Maughan was being installed on the lawn of the Arts Centre Melbourne. The title is a reference to La Belle Hélène an operetta by Jacques Offenbach. The sculpture depicts two female ballet dancers both en pointe, one in an arabesque balancing on one leg while the other with her arms spread is fully extended on both feet. The sculpture is a gift to the Australian Ballet and the semi-classical bronze figures match the tradition of classical ballet.

Melbourne sculptor David Maughan has done many sexy sculptures of slim ballerinas. David’s wife, Helen Choules was a dancer. This explain both the obvious sexual interest in and the technical accuracy of the female figures in Maughan’s sculptures (the nipples on Maughan’s dancers are aways outstanding).

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Simon Brady, Dancer, College of the Arts ground

I now wonder if Maughan isn’t responsible for another ballet sculpture in Melbourne, the bronze figure of the dancer at the front of the VCA. I’m not sure; his webpage doesn’t give much information. (After the publication of this post I get the answer, no, it is by Simon Brady. See the comments.) There is a sculpture of male and female ballet dancers in the garden of the Stokes Collection at Mount Macedon in central Victoria but they look even less like Maughan’s work.

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Tom Merrifield, Dragonfly

None of these ballet sculptures are in my book, Sculptures of Melbourne where there are more about sculptures of footballers than ballet dancers. That’s Melbourne, it’s not my taste; my taste is much more for dancers rather than footballers. Not there is much difference as sculptures of dancers or athletes are both celebrations of athleticism.

I am trying to keep up with the new public sculptures in Melbourne. I feel that I should as the author of a history of public sculptures although my book, Sculptures of Melbourne was never intended to be a catalogue of Melbourne’s sculpture. In writing a history you can’t include every example. Melbourne City Council itself has 100 sculptures and 80 monuments; this does not including privately owned sculptures on public display like Les Belle Hélène, that is owned by the Australian Ballet and on public display on the lawn at the Arts Centre near the Inge King sculpture.


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.


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


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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