Write-ups and Critiques

A Sculptural Journey

Over the years Adrian Mauriks' sculpture has undergone a dramatic transformation - as dramatic as from black to white. His early works were frequently dark in mood, often executed in welded steel, painted black, whereas his current installations have a clarity of spirit which is expressed in pure white forms of elegant expressiveness. It has been a fascinating journey.

The path travelled, however, has not been in a straight line from the past to the present. Ideas have emerged, disappeared for a few years, then reappeared. The organic forms of Forest, 1972, for instance - a modest, small work made in plaster of Paris - have a striking similarity to the forms in current large-scale installations such as Silence, 2001-02, or Compilation, 2003, both constructed of epoxy resin painted pure white. Generally, though, many early works were black in colour and black in mood.

One wonders how such an apparently genial person, one who enjoys company and is such a good conversationalist could have produced so many works that conveyed such a bleak outlook. Cart A Continuum, 1979, for instance, has the appearance of a portable coffin on wheels with a handle for ease of manoeuvrability; Carousel, 1981, far from being a merry-go-round of delights appears more as a prison for the figure trapped inside, while only Anthony Wahols' series of prints of the electric chair could be more chilling than Mauriks' Chair,1979 (this was actually a collaborative work with the Polish artist Jacek Grezlecki). Another early work in three segments included a figure slumped in a wheel chair - as the artist commented, all part of the 'complex, involved process of trying to understand man's purpose.' (1)

By comparison, Mauriks' current pure white works appear as a positive celebration of the power of nature as organic forms - buds, flowers, leaves and trees - curve and twist with upward growth. Nevertheless, on consideration, the Garden of Eden, 1998, is not quite what it seems. Paradise is actually under threat.

Our environment is suffering. In spite of changes in media and manner of presentation, it is still possible to discern some broad, underlying threads running through his work - the thoughts, fears, aspirations and suffering of humankind, combined with a deep abiding concern for the degradation of the environment in which we all live.

Throughout his career Mauriks has produced both the single, stand alone sculptural object as well as more complex combinations of forms, the latter culminating in such ambitious installations as Silence, 2001-02, at the Docklands. An earlier example of the arrangement of apparently disparate forms is Meeting Place, 1985, which consists of a moveable object on wheels, a shrine-like portion with a small staircase and a dominant central structure that both contains, and with a sense of upward movement, gives a sense of release. It is an elaborate and complicated work that requires a certain analysis and contemplation of the message.

Between 1985 and 1991 Mauriks produced a considerable number of works that were intended to be viewed as single sculptural objects, works which he labelled totems. Interestingly, Tom Bass has actually described himself as a Totem Maker, and this became the title of his autobiography. (2) There are, however, significant differences in approach between the two artists. Bass stated that '... throughout the ages sculpture has had a totemic function in society, and through sculpture, people, communities and societies have been reminded of the things that are most important to them.' (3) Bass wished to convey community values, to give them a visible form, as with his Ethos, 1959- 61, in Canberra. Mauriks' totems, on the other hand, confronted the community. Human in scale and often suggesting a human presence they stood as a challenge to the spectator. Frequently based on a strong vertical structure, from which the centre had been cut out with a jagged viciousness, these totems were often capped with sweeping outstretched forms that could be interpreted as wings or arms.

Many of these totems were exhibited in 1986 in his first one-person exhibition in Sydney at the Irving Sculpture Gallery, of which Elwyn Lynn wrote a perceptive review. 'The silhouette of the whole block and of the deleted area contest each other and the surfaces are painted black, red or white, with splits, inlays of slivers of copper and chisel marks. The details, all robust and never skittish additives, enhance the aggressive impact of these formidable monuments.' (4)

Lynn's description could apply equally to the relatively small indoor sculptures and to the towering public works such as Bird Totem, 1988, which is a 6 metre high bronze situated on the corner of George and Jamieson Streets in Sydney. The series of totems came to a logical conclusion in 1991 with a commission for the University of Wollongong. Oldest Man, a bronze 3.6 metres high also has a simple serrated silhouette, not dissimilar to Homage to Jean Arp, 1972-73, a very early work in plaster of Paris. Though media and style of execution vary, changing and developing, some ideas reoccur.

After the simple and direct frontality of his totem series Mauriks made a dramatic change. No longer was each work given a title, they simply became, instead, opus numbers. Frequently standing on three legs, the forms sweep and swirl with a sense of Baraoque flamboyance. Cut, as they are, from the curved surface of steel pipes they have a great sense of agitated movement, like leaves of a tree blown in a strong wind, yet they are given a sense of unity by an almost symmetrical composition.

The Opus Series were recorded in a publication 'Adrian Mauriks. Sculpture' (5) in which Robin Wells wrote - 'The lyrical aspects of Mauriks' current work are obvious, but to know the work only in those terms would be facile - this almost melodic quality is only the veneer of a profound conundrum that can best be illustrated by examining the process by which works came into existence.'

'The work begins with fragments - the shapes and general thrust of an idea, and once chosen, these shapes sort themselves out quite naturally. The quality of each decision is essentially spontaneous, but it is seen that the shapes, the fragments, create their own unity - that they gradually demand their own positions.'

Looking at the completed works, whether they be some of the Opus Series or the more recent installations of the sculptures in epoxy resin, there appears to be a clarity of design that has come about through a logical thought process, though this is only partly true. The artist has candidly admitted that, 'Sometimes when I look back at something I have done, I can't imagine how it has come about - but at the same time, I realise it's more complete, more whole than I could ever have planned it to be.'

One can admire the relationship of the forms, the control of the space and the supremely confident craftsmanship in such complex works as Compilation, 2003, or Silence, 2001-02, but it would be very limiting to examine them from the point of view of good design. Art critic Gary Catalano perceptively noted that, 'For all its physicality, Mauriks' art is still one which gestures to truths that must be intuited or guessed at.' (6)

The Garden of Eden 2001-02, at first glance, would seem to be an easily accessible work. But as Mauriks has written, the installation is not such that one 'can simply look at it and pass by unaffected. Engagement and participation are encouraged by the slow and contemplative passage through the sculpture. Negotiating your way into the piece, you may discover surprising connections,' (7) for there is text stamped onto the lower sections of the sculptural forms - confronting words such as Dioxins, Dieldrin, D.E.S. Hormone Blocker, Hormoneal Abnormalities, Environmental Contaminants. The virginal, pure white of the work is somewhat misleading, for the Garden of Eden has been defiled: there is a hidden cynicism, an implied criticism of society and its neglect of the environment.

If large scale, outdoor installations composed of organic forms in epoxy resin, painted pure white with durable industrial paint have become instantly recognisable as the work of Adrian Mauriks, there was a fascinating variation when the artist exhibited at William Mora's gallery in 2003. For here, set apart in a small room with the walls painted matt black and with minimal lighting, was a dramatic, theatrical presentation entitled Lovers. The abstracted white figures embracing on the couch were as elegant and detached as Madame Recamier and the extraordinarily tall lilies behind them were as equally graceful, sophisticated and sensuous as any of Maplethorpe's black and white photographs.

Of all the pure white installations of recent years, however, Silence, 2001-02, on the New Quay promenade at the Docklands is not only the most ambitious, but also the work best known to the public. It must be one of the largest public sculptures in Australia, with only Stephen Walker's Tank Stream Fountain, 1981, at Circular Quay, Sydney as a possible contender. Consisting of thirteen separate parts, it suggests a surreal landscape where people, and particularly children, are encouraged to walk around and through the elements. The scale of the forms vary from a sphere that children climb upon, to a formal gateway for walking through to a large enveloping central structure big enough to shelter a group from the rain.

Mauriks has suggested that the work is 'appealing to memory ... reminding you of natural things ... clouds, trees, a forest.' (8) In contradiction to its size and strong presence, it is a work frozen white in time, in which movement is stilled and silence is encouraged in the midst of the endless, restless, pandemonium of the city. 'Silence' seems a good note on which to conclude. Adrian Mauriks would like us all to pause, contemplate, consider the fate of humankind and the future of our environment.

Ken Scarlett OAM, 2011

(1) Conversation with the author 29/1/2007
(2) Tom Bass and Harris Smart, Tom Bass. Totem Maker, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 1996.
(3) As above P49.
(4) Elwyn Lynn, 'Variations on a theme of felt and fat,' The Australian, 18/2/1986, p14.
(5) Adrian Mauriks.Sculptor, Iaen-AD Faine Art Publication, catalogue of Opus Pieces 1993-94.
(6) Gary Catalano, 'Phenomenom of untrained artist,' (headline refers to the paintings of Ivor Cantrill) The Age, 16/8/1989.
(7) Adrian Mauriks, New Art Priorities, undated typed notes.
(8) Adrian Mauriks, Art Journey.Melbourne Docklands Public Art Walk, published by VicUrban, 2006.