Industrial Cathedral

Industrial Cathedral
"Industrial Cathedral" charcoal drawing on paper 131 x 131 cm Jane Bennett. This drawing was a finalist in the 1998 Dobell Prize for Drawing (Art Gallery of N.S.W.) ; Finalist in 1998 Blake Prize for Religious Art ; Winner of 1998 Hunter's Hill Open Art Prize

Friday, July 18, 2014


 Every ruin is a reminder that all things are destined for oblivion.
I am both artist  and historian; painting amidst the detritus of the industrial past, walking under rusty girders in the shadow of toppled giants.
 'Under the Hammerhead Crane'
2014 ink pastel charcoal on paper 115 x 80cm

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This is a mixed media painting of the Hammerhead Crane, which unfortunately is now being demolished, despite its iconic heritage status and distinguished history.
By now the "hammerhead" of the crane has been almost completely dismantled.
Instead of painting from the more familiar viewpoint of Mrs Macquarie's Chair opposite, I tackled the daunting bureaucracy of the Navy for permission to paint 'en plein air' on Garden Island itself.
I stood directly underneath the Crane and looked up into the top of the soaring structure, to capture its sheer scale. It is the embodiment of the 18th century concept of the sublime.
This painting has now been chosen as a finalist in both the Kogarah Art Prize and the Mosman Art Prize.
People are absent in many of my paintings, even though I trained as a figure painter and for 2 decades spent several days a week drawing and painting figures from life. I find that leaving out figures or relegating them to the role of "staffage" enhances the sense of the powerlessness of the individual against the inexorable forces of destruction and change. The crane itself is the best homage to the absent and largely forgotten workers who created the industrial landscapes that are now being destroyed.
Spaces that have a sense of history, place and meaning, find an echo in art history. The safety nets resemble fan vaulting in a ruined Gothic abbey and the zig-zag tangle of girders and scaffolding recall Piranesi's  images of the 'Carceri'  or the wreckage of the dying Roman Empire.

The Hammerhead Crane was built during World War II,  and symbolized industrial might, the march of progress and confidence in the values of Western civilization.
The mood of past triumphalism is now tempered by the present reality of scuffed textures, rust and tarnished metal.
Even as a victim of the slow death of de-industrialisation, it had retained a poignant grandeur as industrial memento mori.
The last gasp of the Industrial Revolution, and of Sydney's Working Harbour.
In the words of  Shelley's ruin-poem Ozymandias  "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Except that a future civilization would be extremely lucky to be able to find any trace of our heroic past.

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