30. BRUCE ARMSTRONG
Bruce Armstrong has been creating his timber creatures for more than thirty years. Carved from enormous red gum and cypress logs, his totemic sculptures stand watch over public spaces around Australia. These fantastical carved beasts are a product of Armstrong’s preoccupation with animals and animist cultures - Egyptian, Hawaiian, aboriginal – an interest which stems from his own experience. ‘I’ve had various things happen in my life where strange and significant things have taken place and there’s often an animal present and associated with a strong memory.’1 The artist’s delves into his own experiential material for inspiration and this forms the vision for much of his oeuvre.
Here, Armstrong has carved the impressive 2.1 metre tall Temple from a single piece of cypress. This commanding work is representative of the guardian, in the same manner as Bunjil – the artist’s 23-metre-tall sculpture installed in the Docklands precinct in Melbourne, is a symbol of the Indigenous ancestral being, creator of the lands surrounding Melbourne, who took the form of an eagle. In Temple, the bird stands sentry over an obelisk, similar to those seen in Egypt’s famous Luxor and Karnak temples. Egyptian art and notions of animism have been a strong influence in Armstrong’s work. In the same way the Egyptians would consider animals sacred entities, the artist’s carved forms are representative of humans and become metaphors for different states of mind.
Despite experimenting with stone and metal as a medium, timber has endured as Armstrong’s material of choice. ‘There’s several hundred years of life that happened before it got to me. Its been drawing water out of ground and light from the sky and reacting in the wind and living and supporting other creatures and life forms. It’s a very alive thing. I want it to be about that life it had before me and the life that it has after me as well.’2
Armstrong’s career has spanned almost thirty years and his unique artistic vision has secured his position as one of Australia’s most acclaimed sculptors. In 2016, a major exhibition of his work was held at the National Gallery of Victoria, An Anthology of Strange Creatures, which demonstrated the artist’s renown within the Australian artistic community. The artist’s monumental figures appeal on many levels - sight, touch and smell. Temple possesses the high standard of craftsmanship present in the best examples of Armstrong’s large wooden works. Through his sculpture, the artist engages the viewer in a dialogue about mythology, the spiritual forces of nature and the relationship of sculpture to internal and external environments. His artwork is well-represented in both private and corporate collections in Australia and overseas, and he has produced over fifty major public commissions.
1. Bruce Armstrong quoted in Edgar, R., ‘Bruce Armstrong’s Menagerie of Metaphors Descends on the NGV’, Sydney Morning Herald, 21 August 2016, p.36
Caroline Jones BA MArtAdmin.