Tag Archives: sculpture

Sculpture @ Showgrounds

Melbourne’s Showgrounds are an odd place to dump unwanted marble sculptures from the nineteenth century but it happened and they are still sitting there.


Outside the RASV (Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria) offices at Melbourne Showgrounds is Young Bull and Herdsman, the work of English sculptor Sir Joseph Boehm (1834-1890). The white marble sculpture of a young man leading a small bull by the bronze ring its nose is an appropriate theme for the Melbourne Showgrounds. The carved marble smocking on the herdsman is a fantastic display of technique.

It came to Melbourne for the Centennial Exhibition in 1888-89 and was acquired by the Melbourne Art Gallery and Museum before being gifted to the RASV. It was purchased by the Trustees of State Library at the Centennial Exhibition along with St. George and the Dragon outside the State Library of Victoria.

It makes me wonder how many sculptures did Sir Joseph Boehm send to Melbourne for the Centennial Exhibition? I should also note that  Boehm’s St. George and Dragon was an influence on a very young, Peter Corlett who went on to be one of Melbourne’s most prolific figurative sculptor. Corlett remembers thinking that someone made the sculpture for the first time.

The two sculptures of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert by Charles Summers are slightly less appropriate for the showground’s gardens; Victoria might have been amused. There were originally a set of four sculptures of the royal family, I don’t know where the other two sculptures of her children have gone. The sculptures of the royal family were commissioned by the Trustees of State Library from Charles Summers in 1876. Summers having finished his Burke and Wills Monument, decided that he was Melbourne’s answer to Michelangelo and moved, just like Michelangelo did, to Rome.

It is interesting to note that late nineteenth century sculptures, unlike most other antiques, are actually declining in value.


The one sculpture that appears to have been intended to have been installed at the Showgrounds is a life size equestrian statue The Australian Stockman. It is by Tasmanian based sculptor, Stephen Walker who has numerous public sculptures around Hobart. The bronze plaque says that it is “in memory of David Knox 4 Dec 1916 – 8 April 1995” not that any of the people at the show would know anything about Captain David Knox.

I am surprised that there are any sculptures at the Melbourne Showgrounds.

Man Lifting Cow in Sunshine

John Kelly’s 4.5 metre bronze sculpture, Man lifting cow was been unveiled today in front of the Brimbank City Council’s offices on W Street in Sunshine. The sculpture is part of Hampshire Road Precinct upgrades and the opening of the Brimbank Community and Civic Centre in 2016. It was made at Fundêre Foundry in Sunshine, see my blog post Progress on Man Lifting Cow.


John Kelly, Man Lifting Cow, 2016, (photo from Vicinity Centre’s Facebook post)


What does John Kelly’s sculptures mean?

In 1994 Kelly painted his first Man Lifting Cow I. It was an oil on linen 182.5 x 152 cm. In the middle is a man in overalls, lifting something that roughly resembles a cow. In the background there is wide brown land with low hills and a wind sock to indicate the legendary airstrip. It is a reference to a story about the artist’s William Dobell’s WWII experience.

‘When World War II broke out. Bill [Dobell] served first as a camouflage labourer, later as an artist recording the work of the Civil Construction Corps, which built airfields and other defence projects. As a camouflagist, he was one of a group of several, later famous, artists who had been ordered to make papier-mache cows and move them around the base in the hope of fooling Japanese pilots. (said Bill, “I think the authorities underestimated the eyesight of Japanese airmen”.) For almost a year he shared a hut with fellow-artist Joshua Smith.’ (Extract from Dr Edward McMahon, Unforgettable “Sir Bill” Dobell, [first proof])

Kelly has created many paintings riffing on the story of Dobell making camouflage cows. It is only a story and there is no proof that Dobell ever actually made a camouflage cow. Kelly said about the idea of camouflage. “Art is never really about … what it’s about.” What is art trying to hide? The intersecting history of abstract art and camouflage in World War Two is underrated in the story of modern art. Kelly’s ludic monumental sculptures are an absurd commentary on Melbourne’s many war memorials.

John Kelly was born in London in 1965, and grew up, part of a large family in Melbourne’s outer industrial suburb of Sunshine. His parents still live in the suburb. His father, an Irishman from Cork, worked in the quarry; John remembers him always wearing overalls, like the man lifting the cow. I can see a family resemblance between John and the man that he is sculpting, even if it is modelled from a different person, the nose and chin are similar. Now John Kelly has returned to Sunshine to install his sculpture.

This is the third sculpture in Kelly’s Cow trilogy. ”Three Cows in a Pile,” was shown at the 2002 Monte Carlo Sculpture Festival ‘Parade des Animaux’. Cow Up A Tree in Docklands and Man lifting cow is now in Sunshine.

John Kelly, “Cow Up a Tree”, bonze, 1999, Docklands

John Kelly, “Cow Up a Tree”, bonze, 1999, Docklands

Bruce Armstrong @ NGV

It may not be a Norwegian Blue but there is definitely a large dead bird in the middle of the foyer of the NGV. Although hieratic, priestly, stiff and formal like ancient Egyptian art, Bruce Armstrong’s sculptures somehow have a sense of humour. “That’s what you think” says the monstrous Knuckles holding a club behind his back.


The two guardians that thirty years ago stood in front of the NGV on St. Kilda Road are now in the foyer of the NGV at Fed Square for the Bruce Armstrong exhibition. They are joined with their maquette, the original model for the sculpture and many other works of art by Armstrong.

The exhibition is in the foyer on each of the NGV’s three floors; It continues the series of local sculptors that started with the Inge King retrospective in 2014, Lenton Parr in 2015 and, now Armstrong.

Fish, gryphon, snake, eagle, bull, bear, cat, crocodile, carved from Red Gum with great big cracks or knotty Cypress wood. Armstrong works is a traditional process; he finds the creature in the shapes in the wood that he carves, as he removes more and more. Big and rough his sculptures are surreal and shamanic taping into our collective unconsciousness.

Armstrong’s art is so associated with wood that even when he makes bronze editions wood is still the model. The exhibition reminds the visitor that Armstrong works in other media and that he won the Archibald Price in 2005 of a self-portrait with eagle.


Bruce Armstrong, Still Life (Mirror), 1994

It also reminds the visitor of Armstrong’s carved big blocks of buildings in the early eighties, as in Worlds and worlds, 1984, where a great building sits on the back of tortoise. For the city is also part of our collective unconsciousness.


Bruce Armstrong, Worlds and worlds, 1984

Armstrong is well known for his public sculptures in Melbourne. His Eagle, “Bunjil” is perched over Wurundjeri Way in the Docklands. Its maquette and several of its close relatives are in this exhibition.


Bruce Armstrong, Bunjil maquette, c.1996

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.

A couple of exhibitions in Brunswick

In Sparta Place there is a new gallery, Beinart Gallery offering “fine art” and “curiosities”. Gallery director, Jon Beinart has been involved with pop surrealism for over a decade, publishing books for several years and collecting a coterie of artists. Beinart says that all the gallery now has a physical presence most of his business is online sales.


Pop surrealism is the bastard child of Salvador Dali and a Hollywood Blvd hooker. The child grew up in an American tattoo parlour reading underground comics and eating acid like it was candy. Like many of that generation pop surrealism traveled the world, growing bigger, fatter and more popular but is still hanging out in a tattoo parlour reading comic books, or fatter graphic novels.

One side of the shopfront gallery is used for temporary exhibitions, the other side has a selection of diverse works from the stockroom.

The current temporary exhibition is “Transmogrify” a three person exhibition by Ben Howe, Tim Molloy and Jake Hempson.

Howe’s paintings depict the point of disintegration of the head, fracturing or metamorphosing into a tangle of ribbons. I first saw Ben Howe’s work in the Melbourne Stencil Festival 2009 but this is first time that I’ve seen a series of his paintings. His current work aren’t stencil works but oil paintings; Howe completed a Masters of Fine Art at RMIT in 2011.

Illustrator and comic artist, Tim Molloy has a series of watercolour paintings of strange characters based on his work for his graphic novel, Mr Unpronounceable and the Infinity of Nightmares.

Digital animator Jake Hempson also makes actual sculptures. In a series of busts that explore alternate anatomy of human heads with a particular focus on the interior surface of the maxilla, the upper jawbone, or replacing the head with an animal skull.


At Tinning Street presents there is a tour de’force of paper cutting by Japanese artist, Akiko Nagino. Nagino explained that has only been in Melbourne for a few years and was amazed at how many people have come to see her “Cutting Nature” exhibition. It is obvious. It was also obvious when she was a finalist in the Victorian Craft Awards in 2015

Her designs are of butterflies, patterns and decay. There are lower edges that are dripping, distorted or melting, there are broken chains, all perfectly cut out of paper.

The cut paper is a substitute for clothes or jewellery; there are two butterfly patterned kimonos, a giant necklace, a handkerchief and several shawls. In some of the works the paper has been treated and coloured with iron and copper finishes.

Large scale hand cut paper pieces are complimented with dry embossed prints of the cut paper pieces. The subtle white on white of embossed paper balancing the high contrast of the cut paper piece.



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.


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.


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.

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