Another side of Geoffrey Bartlett


Geoffrey Bartlett’s new exhibition at Australian Galleries Melbourne sees the renowned sculptor’s career, in many ways, come full circle. Bartlett’s first ever exhibition, in Melbourne in 1976, prominently featured drawings alongside sculpture. For this show, he revisits this combination—but now, as he says, the drawings are “taking centre stage, with sculptures acting as support”.

The focus on drawing allowed Bartlett to take a less deliberate approach than with his sculptural practice, arriving at something akin to improvisation. “What is interesting for me about these 48 drawings is they begin with no preconceived idea,” he says. “I begin quite literally with a blank page, with no idea of where it will lead. They have a separation from my sculptural practice, however they have a strong sculptural personality.” These drawings might seem abstract to some, yet Bartlett describes them as having a “clear figurative reference… merging human form with animal and organic forms”, that are “placed in landscapes for context”.

Geoffrey Bartlett, Drawing No 3, 2022, pastel, water colour, charcoal, pencil and acrylic paint, 350 x 550mm. Photograph by Emily Bartlett.

The sculptures in the exhibition have a similar feel: figurative, yet unfamiliar. And with these, Bartlett is again looking back. These pieces, he says, “pay homage to artists who influenced me in the beginning of my career”, including Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore and Alberto Giacometti. Another key influence is the late Australian sculptor, Robert Klippel.

“The sculptures are of a very small scale,” says Bartlett. “I have attempted this on many occasions previously, after seeing the small works of Klippel in his studio many years ago. In the past I have had little success, but with new techniques I finally achieved an outcome I am happy with.”

Alongside these new sculptural works, all created in the last three years, is a Bartlett sculpture from 1993, Nude Descending the Staircase, the inclusion of which completes the theme of a venerated artist taking stock of his creative life. “It is a sculpture I have revised in recent times, however it retains all of its original intentions.”

Geoffrey Bartlett
Australian Galleries Melbourne
7—25 March

This article was originally published in the March/April 2023 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Preview Words by Barnaby Smith