In the first half of the 20th century, the practice of ‘direct carving’ into wood or stone was seen as a modern, indeed authentic, means of translating an artist’s inspiration into material form. Indebted to this idea, Clifford Last developed an approach by which he would allow a work to evolve almost organically through an understanding of, and ‘truth’ to, the materials. He was particularly inspired by the carved forms of the British sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, which he encountered in London before arriving in Australia as a post-war migrant in 1947.
In Forms in majesty Last created a skilful interplay of smooth and rough textures, with ‘cloaked’ exterior surfaces complemented by interior spaces hewn out of solid wood. His two anthropomorphic forms are the same height as that of a human figure and were originally part of a three-figure composition, a Family group (Joseph, Mary and Jesus). Unfortunately Family group was damaged, so the sculptor re-carved the two ‘adult’ figures as Forms in majesty in 1966. The new title and the unity of the couple draw an analogy with Adam and Eve.
Last’s sculpture can be considered ‘materially’ Australian because of his primary choice of local timbers such as jarrah, blackwood,or Tasmanian oak, which he used in Forms in majesty. In Eingana, a carved relief in English limewood, Rosemary Madigan synthesised two visual traditions and two creation stories by drawing on motifs from both Indigenous art and the tradition of western art. This work reflects a personal journey of reconciliation that recognises a wider obligation.
Steven Tonkin 2002
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002