The James Gleeson oral history collection
James Gleeson interviews Australia's major artists
Sculpture, welded steel, enamel paint
106.0 h x 218.0 w x 94.0 d cm
29 November 1979
James Gleeson: So you’ve been interested in all kinds of approaches to sculpture, mediums and techniques, clay, stone, wood, metal (inaudible)?
Lenton Parr: Yes, that’s so. Of course, I worked for many years as a sculpture teacher, and one needs to be able to teach all the techniques.
James Gleeson: Yes, I see.
Lenton Parr: My own work, of course, has gone fairly solidly along the line of welded sculpture.
James Gleeson: Yes.
Lenton Parr: But from time to time I’ve done other things in other materials and, while they’re departures from the main stream, it’s always a pleasure to exercise skills once you have them.
James Gleeson: Lenton, of the pieces that we’ve got, there seem to be two different periods involved. Agamemnon would be the earlier piece of the three? Is that right?
Lenton Parr: Yes, that would be so. The Agamemnon was probably made when I was coming towards the end of a phase of my sculpture in which I was using rather heavily textured forms and rather organic shapes, in so far as steel things can be called organic shapes.
James Gleeson: Yes, yes.
Lenton Parr: There are a lot of works of that kind stretching back really to the earliest stages of working in steel. But round about the time I made Agamemnon I was beginning to see that one could say as much or more with less or simpler means. That would be one of the very last sculptures I did in that style.
James Gleeson: I see. So in a way it’s almost a transitional work?
Lenton Parr: Very much so I would think, yes.
James Gleeson: Yes. I remember those earlier ones of yours. They certainly had a very strong sort of biomorphic quality about them–the suggestion of animal or vegetable or some other kind of connotation to them rather than a purely structural, abstract one.
Lenton Parr: I don’t think my work has ever been structural and abstract in the sense of, say, a constructivist concept of sculpture.
James Gleeson: No.
Lenton Parr: I’ve always looked for in sculpture a sense of vitality. In fact, a sculpture which doesn’t convey the same kind of vitality as a living organism to me is very largely without interest. It’s dead really.
James Gleeson: I see.
Lenton Parr: That quality of vitality is one that you can achieve in purely formal and abstract terms.
James Gleeson: Yes.
Lenton Parr: But it does argue for a kind of self-containment, a kind of personality, an identity if you like, a presence, in the sculptures which is to me the mark of a good sculpture, whether it’s in a purely formal or a figurative style. I suppose the earliest sculptures I made were certainly strongly influenced by the art of the fifties, the sculptural art of the fifties–the geometry of fear type of thing. People like Butler and Chadwick and so on who worked in those mediums. Certainly one had to work one’s way through that, those influences, I think, before you could see that it wasn’t really necessary to be quite so biomorphic to have achieved the kind of vigour and life, if you like, that I was looking for.
James Gleeson: Yes. So that one of the consistent factors through all your sculpture then is this concern with the animating force?Lenton Parr: Yes, I would say that’s been virtually my sole preoccupation in terms of the meaning of sculptures. Yes.