Geoffrey Bartlett Sculptures

Geoffrey Bartlett: Sculpture 1977-1994

by Katrina Rumley

Australian Galleries and Waverly City Gallery, Melbourne 1994

Two of the most significant works acquired for Canberra's Parliament House Art Program (1985 to 1988) were Geoff Bartlett's painted steel sculptures Two Points of View (1985) and Lessons in Gravity (1984). The works act as dynamic counterpoints to the long, massive, granite, curved walls which face the Chambers of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The integration of art and architecture exemplify most clearly the power of such integration.

Bartlett made the two large sculptures in New York, where he lived in 1984 and 1985. During this period he was consolidating ideas about the "potency of opposites". According to the artist, "seduction and grace are balanced with unease and disturbing precariousness".

This exhibition, organised by the Waverley City Gallery, includes studies for Parliament House works, such as Japanese agriculturalist made in 1984. It was during this period that the artist learned the value of the maquette. "The quick study", he said, "can free itself from many of the restraints of gravity (the sculptor's common enemy)."

My association with Geoff Bartlett on the Parliament House project was prefaced by my collaboration with him in 1978 organising the touring sculpture exhibition "Made in Fitzroy". Geoff Bartlett and his (Fitzroy) studio colleagues, Gus Dall'Ava and Tony Pryor, travelled with their work to Tasmania, exhibiting large-scale pieces in regional galleries around the state. That unique exhibition was part of the Visual Arts Board's Regional Development Program and was one of the first major touring shows of contemporary Australian sculpture. At each venue the artist set up and dismantled the multi-faceted (and often kinetic) works in view of the audience. The process of assembly and disassembly of the works was part of the conceptual basis for the exhibition. For Bartlett, the work in this 1978 show was a "marriage of pragmatism with aesthetic".

There are connections between Bartlett's work of that time and much of his sculpture since: the combining of disparate mechanical elements as well as a sense of anthropomorphism.

Bartlett's 1993 exhibitions at Macquarie Galleries in Sydney and the Australian Galleries in Melbourne strengthened the figurative connection. Works such as Faith (Woman 5) (1992, cat. 17) were as much about grace and beauty in line and form as they were about the dynamic interaction between positive forms and negative spaces. With reference to de Kooning, there was a powerful representation of the female form.

It is timely that Geoffrey Bartlett's work is again to tour. He has an impressive record of exhibitions and commissions and has become a key figure in contemporary Australian sculpture. Importantly, the exhibition provides a survey of some of the best sculptures he has produced over twenty years. It is a credit to the Waverley City Gallery that it has mounted such an exhibition. Sculpture exhibitions, although not the easiest to tour, are important and rewarding experiences for city and regional audiences.