Industrial Cathedral

Industrial Cathedral
"Industrial Cathedral" charcoal on paper 131 x 131 cm Jane Bennett. Finalist in 1998 Dobell Drawing Prize Art Gallery of NSW Finalist 1998 Blake Prize Winner 1998 Hunter's Hill Open Art Prize

About Me

My photo
Sydney, NSW, Australia
I'm an Industrial Heritage Artist who paints "en plein air".If it's damaged, derelict, doomed and about to disappear, I'll be there to paint it.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Pyrmont sandstone - The Lizards of Oz

I used to think that in Sydney, sandstone was as common as dirt.
Sydney is to me, not the emerald city or the Harbour city, but a golden city - the sandstone city. Sandstone seems to be everywhere -from sand and rocks on the beaches to the glorious escarpments revealed by cuttings for expressways. But most of this apparent abundance is commercially useless and the rest is fit only for fill or crazy paving at best.
The only sandstone of sufficient quality and durability to be used to restore or replace the exquisite carvings of Sydney's iconic 19th century architectural heritage such as the Queen Victoria building, the buildings on Macquarie St, or the University of Sydney is Pyrmont yellowblock.
Sandstone is a sedimentary rock consisting mostly of quartz or a mix of quartz and feldspar sands, in conjunction with materials such as calcite, clay, iron oxides, and silica which cement it together. It takes on the color of its components, most commonly tan to yellowish or tinted pink to dark red due to varying levels of iron oxide.
There are a lot of variations of texture and color, not many of which are suitable for commercial use. Common forms of sandstone include arkose which has a high feldspar content, graywacke which contains angular rock fragments, and conglomerate which contains rounded rock fragments. Other common stones included in this category are bluestone- a hard, dense feldspathic sandstone; brownstone- a reddish-brown stone taking its color from its high iron content;and flagstone- a sandstone or sandy slate that is easily split into large, thin slabs.
The spine of the Pyrmont peninsula is a sandstone ridge, still visible at Pyrmont Point despite reshaping by deforestation, quarrying, land reclamation and subsequent industrialization and de-industrialization. Pyrmont's topography was dramatically altered as the quarrymasters cut vast swathes through its famous yellowblock, stripping it bare to make the rest of Sydney beautiful.

plein air oil painting of Ways Terrace on a sandstone escarpment in Pyrmont Point  painted by industrial heritage artist Jane Bennett
" Ways Terrace, Pyrmont"
1994 oil on board 41 x 122cm

Often the demolition madness that engulfed the peninsula throughout the 1990s would have the unexpected bonus of revealing the hidden beauty beneath the surface.
In 1989 the gardens planted by local residents in the James Watkinson Reserve in front of Ways Terrace were demolished and left derelict. The 2 dead trees on the hill were a notorious landmark for over a decade. The hole became a pond with many waterfowl, so possibly it was the site of the original Pyrmont spring.
When LendLease started the demolition of the CSR Distillery for the Jackson's Landing development, McCaffery's stables were excavated and revived as a premium source of sandstone.
It was cut like giant blocks of cheese and stored under the newly built Anzac Bridge before being sculpted to restore heritage projects on historic buildings all over Sydney.
plein air oil painting of sandstone, McCaffrey's stables, Pyrmont painted by industrial heritage artist Jane Bennett
"Pyrmont - McCaffery's Hill -Demolition of CSR Distillery "
2000 oil on canvas 61 x 46 cm

This painting shows the site of the old "Paradise Quarry" , renowned as the source of the best Pyrmont yellowblock sandstone during the 19th century.
The "paradise stone" was a warm honey-yellow to brown colour but was dense fine-grained and comparatively difficult to work compared to the stone from the other 2 quarries, "Purgatory" and "Hellhole".
After the quarries closed in the late 19th century, the McCaffrey's stables were built there by the CSR to stable the horses that transported the sugar and rum from the refinery and distillery. Later the stables were used to house the brilliant green sugar trucks which had replaced the horses and carts.

plein air oil painting of sandstone excavated from Paradise Quarry,McCaffrey's stables, Pyrmont stored under Anzac Bridge  painted by industrial heritage artist Jane Bennett
" Sandstone under the Anzac Bridge" 1998
oil on canvas 41 x 61cm
After these blocks of sandstone had been quarried at McCaffrey's Stables, they were then sent to cool their heels for a while under the Anzac Bridge, where the dragon boats are now stored.
Later these blocks were sent to the stone masons trained by the master mason George Proudman under the Centenary Stoneworks Programme. Eventually this sandstone was used to restore heritage items such as the gargoyles of the University of Sydney.
Pyrmont’s sandstone has decorated the best loved historic Sydney buildings such as the Australian Museum, the Sydney Post Office, the Lands Department and the University of Sydney. These intricate swirls of foliage writhe around the top of the columns of the western entrance of Sydney Technical College in Ultimo.

plein air oil painting of carved sandstone columns in Sydney Technical College   painted by industrial heritage artist Jane Bennett
P258 'Capital of Sydney Technical College'
2012 oil on canvas 20 x 20cm

The Sydney Technical College building, which is part of the main campus of Sydney Institute of TAFE (Technical and Further Education), is on Mary Ann Street at the southern end of Bulwara Road in Ultimo, although the street address is given as 651-731 Harris Street. Built in 1891, it was designed by William Kemp in the Federation Romanesque architectural style. I call it Glebe Gothic.

plein air oil painting of carved sandstone columns in Sydney Technical College   painted by industrial heritage artist Jane Bennett
P259 'Capital of Sydney Technical College' 2012
oil on canvas 20 x 20cm

The heavily ornate brick and terracocotta construction is adorned with bizarrely incongruous Australian ornamental plants and animals such as waratahs, kangaroos, wombats, echidnas, platypuses and lizards.
They were created by the master sculptor of the Lands Department building, William Priestly Macintosh.
There is a similar outburst of patriotism with the sculptors of the gargoyles and grotesques of the University of Sydney. Some Australian fauna can be adapted into truly frightening gargoyles and it's a pity that their forms were unknown to the master craftsmen of Cluny. One of the bug-eyed twitchy kangaroos with bared claws poised to hurtle off the roof of the Quadrangle is known fondly by the students as "Skippy on a 3 day meth binge".

plein air oil painting of intricately carved sandstone sculptures of native animals on a pediment  in Sydney Technical College   painted by industrial heritage artist Jane Bennett
'The Lizards of oz-
Sydney Technical College, Ultimo Tafe' 2012
oil on board 20 x 40cm
Lizards do enjoy soaking up the warmth, and the golden sandstone attracts the few feeble rays of sun that have been available this wet summer.
These goannas have picked a precarious but attractive perch to catch up on their tans while stalking the hapless marsupials and monotremes that cling to the arches below. The platypus seems unaware but the possum looks very alarmed and turns to hiss in anger.
The sculptor has done a wonderful job of reproducing the scaliness of their skins, and even the slight greying discolouration of the sandstone on their backs helps add to the illusion of reptilian flesh.

Related posts
To the Point
Wrong side of the tracks - Darling Island Bond and Free
Pretty vacant 

My Pyrmont page in this blog
Pyrmont Paintings past and present 

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Looking over the overlooked-Urban decay in Pyrmont

"Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others." — Jonathan Swift

The next Pyrmont Festival of Food Wine and Art will be held 11am - 5pm on Sunday 20th May at Pirrama Park, the old Water Police site.
I will exhibit a selection of my Pyrmont canvases painted from the early 1980s - 2012. Pyrmont has changed beyond recognition from the early 1980s, from an almost deserted industrial ghost town to a media, retail and entertainment hub.
I painted 'en plein air' and was 'Artist in Residence' at many locations including Pyrmont Power Station, the CSR Refinery and Distillery, Pyrmont Goods Yard, the Waterpolice site, Jones Bay Wharf, Union Square and the top of the half completed Anzac Bridge. Most of my paintings were created on sites that were off-limits to the public.
However, sometimes I set up my easel by the side of the road - or even right in the middle of the road. There were few passers-by and almost no traffic. I have returned to paint scenes that I last painted a couple of decades ago to compare and contrast the past with the present.
On Harris Street a handful of derelict buildings still rub shoulders with the clean sharp angles and acidic colours of Jacksons Landing.
The "Terminus Hotel" on the western corner of Harris and John Street has become a pin-up for lovers of urban decay.
Its burnt sienna brickwork and emerald green doors mock the tastefully muted hues and expensive renovations of the up market "Point Hotel" on the other side of the road. This vine encrusted ex-pub proudly flaunts an air of seedy glamour, and stories about its scurrilous past and its mysterious closure have become part of the local mythology. It is going to hell in the proverbial handbasket and doesn't care who knows it.
Plein air painting of ex-milkbar/bakery in Harris Street Pyrmont by industrial heritage artist Jane Bennett
'Old bakery corner of John and Harris St' 2012
oil on board 35 x 28cm.
However the opposite corner of Harris and John Street has an equally haunting ruin which has been gently mouldering away for at least as long as its more spectacular neighbour.
This building on the corner of Harris and John Street was once a bakery, and then a typical Greek milk bar. The proprietors used to make their own icecream in the traditional way - twirling it around on a stick.
They had one of those old-fashioned football machines operated by a handle, with rows of wooden "players" kicking a ball. It would have pre-dated the pinball machines by at least a decade.
I have painted in Pyrmont and Ultimo for over 30 years now, but I don't actually remember when this ceased to be a thriving business.
If it ever really thrived.
Plein air painting of Anzac Bridge at sunset from JohnStreet Pyrmont by industrial heritage artist Jane Bennett
"Pyrmont streetscape : Anzac Bridge from the corner
of John, Pyrmont and Point streets" 1994
oil on canvas paper 100 x 75cm

Plein air painting of Anzac Bridge  from JohnStreet Pyrmont by industrial heritage artist Jane Bennett
ANZAC Bridge from John st 1994 oil 91x31cm
Next door to the ex-milkbar is "Chicks on Harris" ("chicks" in this context refers to fast food- I'm not sure that the owners thought through the implications of their name as a number of establishments in this area in the past have had chequered reputations).
Plein air painting of old ex-milkbar/bakery  in Harris Street Pyrmont by industrial heritage artist Jane Bennett
Black Dog (old bakery from John St)' 2012
oil on board 31 x 25cm

The old milkbar had already been boarded up for some time, as there were archaeologically interesting layers of tatty posters layered on top of the boards which sealed the doors - a tradition that has continued to this day.
Related posts
To the Point
Wrong side of the tracks - Darling Island Bond and Free
Pretty vacant 

My Pyrmont page in this blog
Pyrmont Paintings past and present