Abstract Australis
Abstract Australis
Brighton, Victoria 3186 Australia
Ph: 0407 501 808
ABN: 66 086 690 771
[email protected]

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Bruce ARMSTRONG (b.1957)

"I get up in the morning and turn on the chainsaw, that's the professional part, making    sculptures, calling clients," he says. "The drawing is more like relaxing, almost meditation, a way out that is genuinely enjoyable. Because I never intended to show it, there is no pressure, no dates to meet. There's no trauma involved." *

Bruce Armstrong (b. 1957) is one of Australia’s most celebrated contemporary sculptors.  Armstrong studied painting and sculpture at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT).  In 2005 Armstrong was an Archibald Prize finalist with a self-portrait inclusive of his iconic eagle motif. His totemic sculptures , so unmistakable conceptually,  through his repetition of the same  imagery of animals, birds and mythological creatures.

"In a way, for me, birds represent all things," he says. "They are all sorts of different things to different people, you can have a predatory bird, a nurturing bird; it's a pet or a threat. I find they say more about people than people, in that their allegory is unrestricted. If it were a person doing what the owl is doing in these pictures, it would just be less interesting, it would be more literal."**

Crafted using Australian timber, enacting a feat of physical dominance using only a chainsaw and his own brute strength, Armstrong’s sculptures have touched the lives of most Australian’s as they assume positions  in grand public spaces in Melbourne,  Sydney, Perth and Canberra.  His public sculptures work as totemic features along paths or guarding gateways. And because of their monumentality they are treated with a kind of awe.

Armstrong ‘sculptures proliferate Melbourne’s city district. ‘Guardians’ 2009 out the front of the Grand Hyatt Hotel on Russell Street, at the Yarra Turning Basin there is a series of angled pillars, Armstrong’s ‘Constellation’ 1997, made in collaboration with Geoffrey Bartlett. His ‘Tiger’ 1985 is out at Heide Museum of Modern Art. Since 1987 ‘Untitled Beasts’ 1986, two lion-like beasts have stood at the entrance to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) on St Kilda Road.   ‘Bunjil’ 2002 located in Melbourne’s Docklands  on Wurundjeri Way for over ten years, an iconic sight to millions as the train wound its way around the city loop.  ‘Bunjil’, cast in aluminium, stands at twenty-three metres in height,  a formidable presence amongst the tangle of railway lines, roads and buildings.  Armstrong was here inspired by Bunjil, the ‘Eaglehawk ‘regarded as the spirit creator of the Kulin nations, which include the Wurundjeri people.

‘Owl’ 2011 located in Canberra on the Corner Belconnen & Benjamin Way is a landmark sculpture which honours the Powerful Owl, which is the largest owl species in Australasia. The owl is classified as an occasional resident to the ACT and has been sighted in the Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra Nature Park and Namadgi National Park. The owl has a commanding and enigmatic presence when encountered in the wild. Armstrong portrays the owl as a guardian spirit or totem overlooking its domain.

Most who come into contact with these great works might be oblivious to their creator, but with certainty, all who come into contact with these sculptures, must surely feel enriched.  In this sense, Armstrong like his contemporaries, John Kelly (born 1965) and Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)  to name a few, has made an immense contribution to the aesthetics of our lives; our cities and our parks.

In recognition of this great Melbourne artist, the NGV  holds eight of his works.  ‘Savage Beauty’, a critically acclaimed retrospective of Armstrong's sculptures, prints and bronzes curated by Ted Gott, was held in 1999 at the Museum of Modern Art at Heide.  Concluding in January 2017, Armstrong’s oeuvre was celebrated at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in the first major survey of his work, exploring his practice from the eighties to the present day.  In the words of then Director, Tony Ellwood, “Armstrong’s sculptures are at once commanding and playful, contained yet expressive.”***

* Bruce Armstrong cited in ‘Drawing Out a Sculptor’, The Age, June 2003 https://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/drawing-out-a-sculptor-20030609-gdvuhd.html

**Bruce Armstrong cited in ‘Drawing Out a Sculptor’, The Age, June 2003 https://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/drawing-out-a-sculptor-20030609-gdvuhd.html

***Tony Ellwood cited in McDowall, C., ‘Bruce Armstrong, Sculptor – Captivating Creatures at the NGV’, August 26 2016, The Cultural Concept. https://www.thecultureconcept.com/bruce-armstrong-sculptor-captivating-creatures-at-the-ngv


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