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Tag Archives: Canberra

Most controversial public sculptures in Australia

Readers in Melbourne might think that this will be about the flat yellow steel planes of Ron Robertson-Swann’s Vault (aka the Yellow Peril) but it is not. Although the controversy lasted a year, mostly letters to the paper and angry city council meetings. A few people figuratively lost their heads but no sculptures lost their heads. For more on Vault read my post: And it was all yellow.

Other readers might think that the controversy was the statue wars of 2017 when statues of Captain Cook and Governor Macquarie were vandalised with paint. “No pride in Genocide.” Again a few people figuratively lost their heads but no sculptures lost their heads. For more on this read my post: Statue Wars 2017.

There are two sculptures that were so controversial that the sculptures were actually decapitated.

Robert Hitchcock Yagan 1984 (photo by Nachoman)

The Yagan statue by Robert Hitchcock is located on Heirisson Island in the Swan River in Perth. It was decapitated and the head stolen in 1997 by an anonymous vandal who identified themselves as a ‘British patriot’.

The decapitation occurred the same week that Yagan’s actual head was returned. Yagan was murdered in 1833, shot a point-blank range by an eighteen year old Englishman William Keates was speared to death in revenge. Yagan’s head was taken as a trophy to England; if this had been done today it would be a war crime. After passing through multiple British hands Yagan’s head was eventually buried in an unmarked grave along with the body of another Indigenous Australian, some dried viscera and a Peruvian mummy in a corner of Everton Cemetery in Liverpool.

The statue was restored with a new head only to be decapitated again in 2002 leading to a second restoration and another slightly different head. The pattern of racist attacks only stopped when the area was fenced off. There were no witnesses to either of these crimes although WA Police Headquarters has views across the Swan River to the statues site.

Greg Taylor, Liz and Phil Down by the Lake, 1995 (image gregtaylor-sculpture.com)

However, even the Yagan statue is not the most controversial public sculpture in Australia which has to be Greg Taylor’s Liz and Phil Down by the  Lake 1995. Made of cement fondue coated with iron oxide to give them a rested appearance. It was part of a temporary exhibition for the National Sculpture festival organised by the Australian National University in Canberra.

Seated on a park bench by Lake Burley Griffin were two naked figures. The wrinkly old naked Liz and Phil looked, the very opposite of regal, frail and human; only the crown on Liz’s head reminded the viewer who was being depicted. The fact that Lese-majeste is not in Australian law but that didn’t stop Returned Service League chief Bruce Ruxton calling for Taylor’s execution.

Then the head of Liz was stolen on the night of 13 April. The police log stated boldly: ”The Queen has lost her head and doesn’t know where to find it.” After the beheading a former Sydney policeman decided to dress the sculpture in bedsheets printed with the Australian flag. The following night the Duke’s head was removed along with further vandalism that severed legs from both figures and caved in Phil’s chest. The entire sculpture was was removed on 16 April, two days later.

Taylor told the Canberra Times: “It’s a pretty sad day for freedom of speech and freedom of expression when you can’t even put a piece of art up without its opponents being able to control themselves.”

In a secondary controversy the Australian Federal Police on May 14 issued a denial that the Queens head had been found in home of a right wing militia member who had infiltrated the computer and communications sections of the Defence Department and possessed an arsenal of weapons.

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Lead Figures (Games and Art)

I was thinking about writing a series of blog post about the tangible art of games, the board and pieces used in play. The art associated with games; painted models, artwork in games and cosplay. The intersection of art and gaming culture is on the rarely examined edge of visual arts apart from when an exhibition of video games comes to ACMI to remind the public. (I have written about games before see my post on De Blob video game that hardly anyone has read.)

Then I learnt that David A. Trampier had died; if you have played AD&D then you will be familiar with his illustrations.

I emailed Mark Morrison, he was my first AD&D DM and now works in the games industry writing and teaching about designing games. I also told Mark Morrison about Sword & Dowkery’s blog post on Bruegel’s The Triumph of Death and lead/tin miniature figures based on the skeleton party in the painting.

When we were teenagers we used to paint the 25mm white metal figures. White metal, is a lead/tin alloy; little lead figures goes back to the ancient Romans but there are health concerns about them now. Skeletons were easy to paint, black in the shadows and white highlights on the bones. The quality of the model figures were amazing and the best of these figures were made by Citadel Miniatures in England. There are plenty of notes to the history of these tiny sculptures, known as miniatures.

Soldiers doing ablutions survive at the Munich Toy Museum

Soldiers doing ablutions survive at the Munich Toy Museum

Some notable sculptors have made dioramas with model figures, the Chapman Brothers, and closer to home, Daniel Dorell, among many contemporary artists. Web Gilbert and Leslie Bowles, who were both familiar with making much larger war memorials, made dioramas for the Australian War Memorial in Canberra; Web Gilbert did the Mathew Flinders memorial near Flinders Street and Bowles made the General Monash Memorial in Kings Domain, Melbourne. Frank Lynch and Wallace Anderson are two more sculptors who also made dioramas for the Australian War Memorial.

The ancient greeks had professional painters who specialised in painting sculptures to give it a life-like appearance. Painting the figures, background and models for the War Memorial dioramas went to another set of artists; Louis McCubbin did the original painting but they have since been retouched and repainted by other artists.

These war dioramas can be controversial; Peter Hofschröer, Wellington’s Smallest Victory (Faber and Faber, London, 2004) is a small book about a small matter of Napoleonic war history. Hofschröer’s detailed research into the Wellington’s insistence on an alteration to Lieutenant Siborn’s Large Waterlooo Model makes his book an exciting read. Siborn’s Large Waterlooo Model is 400 square feet and has hand painted 75,000 10mm white metal figures.

So to all the people painting readymade cast figures, to all my readers with Warhammer armies; remember that you are still doing what can legitimately be called art.

Early Martian army

Early Martian army at the Munich Toy Museum


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