Stephen Hart: Fellow Humans

Fellow Humans, Stephen Hart’s latest exhibition at Museum of Brisbane is a riveting collection of 20 sculpted timber humans. Some of the people chosen to be represented in sculptural form are close to the artist, such as his daughter, wife and brother-in-law. Amongst them is a lawyer, an architect and even the artist himself, plus a mix of well-known Brisbane folk, including artists Michael Zavros and Judith Wright.

Each of the fellow humans stand facing outwards in a scattered circle, where they can be viewed at various angles from the perimeter. Their stances, their expressions, the details of their faces, hair and clothes are intricately carved. It’s a treat to be able to examine the shapes of their bodies and the way their clothes fall. These things often escape our perception when faced with a real person.

Hart’s pregnant daughter stands with both hands on her belly, eyes closed, an engagement ring glittering on her finger. It looks as though she is about to go into labour. Artist Michael Zavros stands with his muscular arms crossed, casual, with confidence. Others have their arms at their sides, head up and gazing into the distance – as we might pose for a passport photograph. Few are engaged in any activity, except for the artist’s young grandson playing with a ball.

We are used to seeing portraits as photographs and paintings, but far less used to a painted timber sculpture as a portrait. It’s very special, well worth the years of toil using traditional hand-carving techniques to produce these sculptures.

Some of the figures are instantly recognisable, in the same way that we make out the form of someone walking down the street towards us. That instant recognition adds charm and a level of everyday approachability. It also gives the sense that this is the artist’s community where each person was carefully chosen for their connection to the artist.

In the making of the sculptures, Hart photographed each person from the front, sides and rear, sketched them, created maquettes and then finally the full sculptures. The scale of the sculptures is interesting. They are not life size, nor figurines, they are mid range, and this scale makes them all the more intriguing. Large enough to easily view their faces, but not so large to be the same as a real human being. It has the effect of defamiliarising the familiar.

Hart has come up with a fabulous concept, and the execution is compelling. Check it out. Exhibition is on display at Museum of Brisbane from 18 October – 2 March, 2014

Written by Belinda Daw

Image: Stephen Hart, Robert Riddel. Courtesy of Museum of Brisbane.