The surprising skin of Garry Greenwood

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Working with leather as a sculptural material, the late Garry Greenwood (1943–2005) left behind a striking creative legacy. Known for creating fantastically detailed masks, puppets and costumes, Greenwood also used the supple tactility of leather to craft fully-functional musical instruments.

Greenwood’s wide-ranging practice is the subject of Skin, an exhibition of work drawn directly from the permanent collection of Tasmania’s Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (QVMAG). Possessing an unmistakable style steeped in folklore and medieval design, Greenwood began experimenting with leather in the late 1970s. His first musical instrument was a leather violin and from there he crafted leather ocarinas, harps and drums. Greenwood’s instruments are still regularly played by The Chordwainers and the Tasmanian Leather Orchestra, a group of musicians whose most recent performance was at the 2020 Mona Foma festival.

Greenwood employed the handcrafted processes of wet forming and laminating, which allowed him to manipulate leather into complex twists and curvilinear forms. Working mostly with cowhide, Greenwood also experimented with the skin of ostrich, sheep and buffalo. Shapes inspired by the animals and plants near his home in north-east Tasmania are evident in Greenwood’s instrument designs, particularly the elongated neck and torso of the black swan. His most ambitious instrument was the Windform, a 6.5 metre horn resembling a huge phonograph and operated with a saxophone mouthpiece.

In addition to regularly designing sets and props for the Launceston Repertory Theatre, in 1998 Greenwood collaborated with contemporary dance company Tasdance on their production Skin Deep. QVMAG curator Ashley Bird reveals that Praxis, an extravagant headdress made by Greenwood for Tasdance, “is an important new acquisition to the museum’s collection and a central component of the Skin exhibition.” A unique homage to a master craftsman, Skin also includes working drawings of multiple designs from across Greenwood’s career and a selection of handcrafted shoes—exuberantly wild creations melding complex technique with an inimitable aesthetic.

Skin
Garry Greenwood
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery
5 December 2020—11 July

This article was originally published in the January/February 2021 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Briony Downes