By Columbia Winterton
Geoff Bonney is an Australian artist who has travelled extensively around the globe with his work and recently visited North Melbourne’s Anvil Studio to exhibit his latest sculptures.
Entering the exhibition felt like walking into a room full of new friends, old acquaintances, long-lost relatives, and perhaps aspects of our own humanity that we might prefer overlooked.
Most sculptures stood, facing the entrance, on white box stands. You half expected one or two to yell out “Hello!” as you appeared. Finding the secluded gallery itself added an element of intrigue. Geoff explained that it’s owned by friends and the studio is used by Anvil Productions, a local theatre company.
Evenly arranged and filling the white-brick studio space, most sculptures could be circled and viewed from multiple angles and, given the average height of about one metre, on their platforms, you could easily look each sculpture squarely in the eye. Some taller sculptures were placed on lower platforms, forming a harmonious exhibition. Much brighter than, say, a gallery of 50 lux, the lighting worked well to supplement the life-filled room.
The influences of Picasso and Klee, as well as Indigenous Aboriginal carvers and primitive African sculpture, were evident in much of Bonney’s work, which hinted at surrealism combining a blend of allegory and metaphor.
‘Fisherman’ (left) and ‘Echidna man’ (right) by Geoff Bonney
The formation of the sculptures begins with a base wood structure, sometimes a fence post, which is then carved and chiselled into shape. Many arms were once chair legs. The arms of Bird Man were originally an ornamental part of a buffet piece and one of Disabled Man’s arms was formerly a babushka doll’s head.
Disabled Man also balanced the prosthetic leg of Bonney’s late father, complete with the owner’s sock, on his head.
In primarily earthy, neutral shades and tones, the sculptures were painted in paint made by the artist himself. Learning this somehow made the sculptures even more appealing — kind of like the appreciation you might have for a cake baked from scratch versus a packet-mix. So, without a speck of gloss in sight, the paintwork was a refreshing component and, importantly, it complemented the work and materials used.
Undeniably, there was a sense of fun in these sculptures, from Family Man, who juggled two children, one of whom stood on his shoulders, to Travelling Man, who expertly held multiple suitcases, some stacked upon his head. I found myself recoiling at the name of one sculpture, Sly Man, and promptly made up an excuse for him, to which the artist agreed — Sly Man is fun, too.
While humour tends to buffer confronting anything painful or uncomfortable, particularly about oneself, you could have focused just on the ‘fun’ in these sculptures. But characters like Two Faced Man, Money Man and Hit Man presented an observation on the ungracious, unpleasant aspects of human nature, and also a fragility, and offered a gentle vehicle for honest self-reflection.
‘Twins inside a painted lady’ Photo: Geoff Bonney
Back to the fun: I also loved that each sculpture had its own unique identity and story that you could further embellish, if you’re that way inclined.
To sum up, the unequivocal artistry, dexterity and inventiveness of these sculptures denote certain core values of the artist and candid themes, which suggest that fads don’t dictate Geoff Bonney’s work.
This exhibition was a treasure.
Contact for Geoff Bonney: 0439 421 123
Coming up at Anvil Studio (Anvil Productions)
2A Curran Street, North Melbourne
Anvil Productions invites an audience of 30 people per show to this Australian premiere season of an intimate work staged at an 1889 farrier’s, where steel was once forged and horses shod.
Dates: 11–14 November and 18–21 November, 8.00pm
Matinees: 14 & 21 November, 4.00pm
$25 full, $20 concession