Monday 20 June 2016


In defence of public sculpture

Whenever a writer, an artist, an architect or any practitioner of the arts places his or her work in the public domain there will always be those who like it and those who don’t. This can result in controversy. If artists were to respond to every criticism they would never create anything.

In all fields of life there is so much more beyond our own experience. It is the artist’s job to show the way by courageously exploring the new. In my view, liking an artwork is not really what matters. It’s more a question of how art challenges us or finds a way to speak to us, to open up a new awareness.
I remember a public sculpture by Ron Robertson Swan designed for the Town Square in central Melbourne. The sculpture, accepted by the Council, was vilified by then City of Melbourne Mayor who, using art as a political football, renamed it the ‘yellow peril’ from ‘the vault’. This new ‘title’ stuck and shaped the general public’s response to the art work. Is there, I wonder, a role for our leaders to guide citizens into an understanding of new artworks?
All this says less about the quality of art and more about people who stoke the flames of artificially created controversies. They have not done the work, have not taken the risks, their lives and livelihood are not bound up at every moment with what they are making, who have given thought to the medium or the method. Artists take risks by exposing their ideas in the public realm. At every moment their lives are bound up with whatever they are making, with exploring new boundaries.
Many years ago I designed a work for Swanston Street Melbourne- a shard of architecture emerging out of the pavement- may hated the idea, thought it was inappropriate and expressed these sentiments even before the work was installed. However, I persevered and the council saw its merit even if not many amongst the populace did. In time, the work was installed and has since grown to become one of Melbourne’s icons plus a well loved sculpture.
Over the years the sculpture has gained popularity and received awards locally and internationally: a Melbourne newspaper poll voted it the most popular sculpture in town. Recently it was included in an internet survey of the top 25 creative sculptures around the world. The prestigious magazine ‘Architectural Digest’ included ‘Architectural Fragment’ as one amongst eleven of the most fascinating sculptures in the world.

I remember the hullabaloo created by citizens of Melbourne when plans for that huge sculpture, which is Federation Square, were made public. Since then it has become one of the most loved and popular meeting places in the land. The new and change are always challenging. But without change and the new we would still be in the dark ages.

There were similar controversies surrounding the Sydney opera house, another iconic blend of architecture and sculpture that now, along with Uluru, is the image representing Australia to many around world.     

Arts advisory panels exist all around the world promoting creative endeavours within their communities, connecting past, present and future, opening our eyes to things we may not see, unlocking rooms that may be closed within us, helping to make meaning of our lives and, in the words of Anne Michaels ‘to find a way to make beauty necessary and a way to make necessity beautiful’.

I will leave you with the following thought. During the Second World War, Winston Churchill’s finance minister said Britain should cut arts funding to support the war effort. Churchill’s response: “Then what are we fighting for?”



Sunday 19 June 2016



a beautiful visual moment to savor


thoughts on an introspective winter’s day

It is interesting that it takes the experience of the start of the ‘forever sleep’ of one person to awaken another. Following one such event, this question arrived for me. Am I using the days I have left well? Like today for instance. A normal everyday day, but with a difference. It is one of those glorious early winter days. A fresh clear morning followed by a warm sunny day. How do I spend such a day well. Enjoy it? Realising that it is happening? Acknowledging it? I decided to take notice of the seasons and start this exercise by giving these moments of wonder some attention.

The Rain has washed the trees dustless, creating in the green a vibrancy which can be felt. The type of vibrant green just before autumn turns it golden. The sun shines gently warm and the blue of the sky has a soft edge. A seemingly perfect background for the grey thrush, with a song so clear, with a sound so clean, with a melody so charming, with a resonance so wide and overwhelming as to fill up, to the point of the divine, the whole of the moment. A moment of wonder. Drink this moment, hold it close to your heart.

Light and death

Each day contains some magic, all we need to do is open our eyes to it and jump aboard while it passes by. How could we not take notice, How could we deny this. Why else are we here. Ride the beauty of the moment so that, when just before being placed in our own box, we will not feel any ‘regret’. (Regret is and has always been an absolute waste of time. There are so many better ways of using the moment.)

As the other evening a little before sunset. I watched at the edge of a foreign lake while an empty old wooden boat, on fire, floated slowly on the still water mirror. A fisherman cremating his past. A moment filled brimful with poetic content. A sight where, for the moment, nothing else was needed. I hold this moment close to my heart.

Life and dark

As the other morning, the sky the colour of slate, clouds so low the tops of the trees in the forest were invisible. As if the trees were suspended from the clouds. From this grey space huge colourful flowers dropped onto the ground, only to rise again a little later to re-enter that same space of nothingness. Fluttering feeding Rosellas. I held this moment in both hands.

None of this needs any economic rationale or development to be appreciated, rather, it needs a tiny shift in attitude, or a smack in the head such as the death of a dear one, when all of a sudden a few things become clear. As clear as a drop of dew mirroring our dreams, and the immense size of the world filled with moments of wonder. A world so much bigger than our concerns.

Light and death

I take notes from one of my teachers. A big fat white goose, who lives on the pond at the bottom of the garden. After all, when all is said and done, she finishes up in the same place as we all do. How does she spend her day. She floats upon the water with the grace of a galleon. Then banks and performs the most exquisite ballet-like yoga exercises/stretches. While engaged in this, her shape becomes a living kinetic sculpture. She preens endlessly, then tucks her head under her wing, pulls one leg up under her feather skirt and snoozes her inner landscapes into reality. What is its purpose? What is its meaning?

I also take notice from another one of my teachers. I remember four year old Lutea, my creative guardian, in my garden, who, after having struggled to open a long dark dried bean pod, stands there momentarily wondering unbelievingly at the beauty of a set of six polished purple and black beans lined up inside. Surprise. I try to keep my heart open for moments such as these.


Life and dark

I wish not ever to say: “I wish I had…….”.