For a painter & a poet, a studio sited away from distraction within a native bushland surround would be of utmost desire. Nature continuously bringing forth inspiration in an ever changing landscape and driving you to be inspired. For Harry McClelland and Studio Park, being surrounded by the natural environment transcended through to his work of Australian impressionism, taking in and expressing what he saw of the vast landscape in which he lived and worked. Though his legacy lives on through his paintings and writing, there too it lives on through Studio Park, still set within the only remaining allotment of bushland in the area which was previously apart of Corlett’s Orchard.
The quaint 1920s artist’s studio, a humble stone building washed in a warm cream hue under the contrast of a terracotta tiled roof, may not have been thought to become much more than development within the coming decades, succumbing to the engrossing suburbs surrounding it, yet the small studio in the bush would form the basis for a public art gallery and parkland open to the community, filled with sculptures from many notable artists of the 20th century. Following Harry’s passing, and wanting art to remain the future for Studio Park, Harry’s sister Annie May McClelland passed on her acquired estate, to establish a new centre for art in the region. The new gallery, to be built in a modernist form encapsulated in a flat roofed cement block construction, consisting of differing height and length block walls was begun by architects Munro & Sargent in 1971. The building, which shares similarities to McGlashan & Everist’s earlier 1963 home and gallery space Heide II, as well as the later 1975 Benalla Gallery also by Munro & Sargent, is made up of two open spaces with spartan windows, allowing natural light in but without an over excessive amount. The original gallery has been extended and repurposed in parts by architectural firm Williams Boag over the course of fifteen years to include additional gallery space and a large restaurant come cafe and events space. These extensions have been in keeping with, although have highly modified the building’s original 1971 design, albeit still managing to maintain McClelland Gallery in the modernist style of architecture. The gallery sits upon a small rise overlooking a large lake to the west, designed by Dame Elizabeth Murdoch of nearby Cruden Farm.
Elizabeth Murdoch being a neighbour to McClelland, as well having a rather large enthusiasm for sculpture and in particular modernist Australian works, helped to acquire many of the original pieces that have been in the park since the establishment of the gallery. Made up predominantly of works by the group of emigrant Melbourne sculptors known as the Centre Five, who were at the forefront of the avant-garde at the time for professional sculpture in Melbourne and pushed for sculpture to be in the public eye, creating large works for public spaces and pieces to coincide with and present as apart of newly finished architectural projects with the idea that sculpture was for everyone and should be seen by everyone. This notion also interprets how a particular sculpture is viewed as most within the park were created with the intention to be viewed within the settings for which they were made as this defines their characteristics.
Although an outstanding sculpture in its own right Norma Redpath’s Paessagio Cariatide is one precedent of the changing or possible loss of interpretation due to the stark change in location. Looming large between the trees at the top of the carpark, the almost tree like curvature of the bronze cut sharply by the straight edges which begin to emerge as you round the work, seemingly slicing through the landscape of soft browns and greens. Below the darkened edifice an interchanging coupling of stairs lead up from the ground and invert into the work above but having no relation to its current surround or the earth on which it sits. The bronze, now weatherbeaten shades of oranges and browns no longer provide the sheer contrast to the intended milieu of the white and pale grey interior of the State Bank Centre lobby on Melbourne’s Bourke Street where it originally stood.
Without the knowledge of a work’s intended location or environment, an artists intent for a piece can change, become lost or confused at best. Large public works should be seen as both a vessel for conversation and an object to break up the monotony of space, in most cases prior knowledge is not a necessity but can assist one to view a work with the full intention of the creator.