Speaker: Ken Scarlett
Curator of the Clive Stephen Exhibition at McClelland Gallery
Australian author specialising in Australian sculpture
Venue: The McClelland Galleries
Last week I took the time to have a walk around to preview the new exhibitions that are in both rooms at McClelland. These in contrast to a few other exhibitions recently were immediately to my liking. I don’t know how long exactly it takes to set up exhibitions like these, but Ken confirmed today that a few people had put in some twelve hour days and worked very hard to collect, catalogue and present the works we were looking at today. What made Clive’s work a bit more difficult was that he rarely signed and dated his pieces and rarely kept records about them either. More annoying would have been that the NGV hadn’t produced a catalogue for his exhibition in around 1959 as they had been so short of funds they couldn’t afford to print one.
The collection at McClelland was a really lovely mix of Clive’s work. Some from collections and some from his wife’s store of his work. Since Clive was a full time practising GP it is interesting that he took the time to fit in his great love of art. Since he had not travelled extensively during his life he drew on the inspiration from the contacts he made in the arts world and from Africa and the Pacific, which at the time not many other artists were doing in Australia – if any.
Ken spoke about how on an early trip to Europe with a family Clive was working for, styles that began to influence him were from Jacob Epstein, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Henri Matisse. In Melbourne Clive joined a group of which Russell Drysdale was a member and which was run by George Bell. The artist and printmaker Eric Thake is also thought to have influenced his work as seen by the lovely little linocuts we saw on the wall over his sculptures.
Also talked about was Clive Stephen’s dedication to and love of his materials. The original form of the wood or stone is still allowed to show through the creation. The little sculptures of animals are simple but not simplistic. You just want to touch them they have such beautiful curves and form. Each is elegant and not over stated and the personality of the artist and his subject both shine through.
We saw some photos of Clive Stephen on site looking for materials such as Buchan marble, well known for the fossils that can either make it more interesting or a bit busy. We were told he also resourced from a local monumental stone mason where he may have picked up some tips about carving into stone.
Not exactly an artist who used “found materials” but rather went out and accessed from the source rather than relying on someone else to do it (maybe to cut costs or just to get exactly why he wanted) I personally found a new artist from our recent past to admire and respect. His life drawings are full of life and his watercolours are creative, well balanced and interesting. His sculptures are sensuous, curvy, full of life and even fun in their reflections of animals we have around us today. He calls on the inspiration of Africa and the Pacific cultures with respect and his own tasteful interpretation. Clive Stephen, Australian Sculptor, Artist, Doctor and a fine example for us to draw our own inspiration from today.