b. 1936-2007

I believe art is the sum of discoveries, and if you can follow that fairly closely without becoming self-indulgent, you might just make something worthwhile. Ian McKay


Ian McKay. Sydney Morning Herald

Ian McKay is a pivotal figure in the history of Australian sculpture. Born at Port Augusta, South Australia in 1936, McKay studied at the East Sydney Technical College from 1959-61 under Lyndon Dadswell and began his career as a carver.

In the early sixties McKay travelled abroad, visiting Spain, Greece and the U.K, seeing for the first time sculptures by Matisse, Lipchitz and Degas, an experience that stayed with him throughout his career. During these years McKay also taught for a semester at St. Martin’s School of Art, London which was well known at the time for its teaching alumni, Sir Anthony Caro (1924 - ) and American sculptor David Smith (1906 - 1965).

On his return to Australia, McKay worked part time as a teacher at National Art School (NAS) in Sydney (1966 – 74) while working on exhibitions and commissions. He had his first one man show at the Dominion Galleries, Sydney in 1966.Ian McKay Umber 1972 welded steel. 114 x 114 x 30 cm. Gwen Frolich Bequest. Photo: BRAG.

It was in 1967 that McKay deviated from his home skill of carving to working with welded steel. This change was inspired by two exhibitions; Two Decades of American Painting and Rodin, both of which had a huge effect on him and stimulated his departure from the figurative towards abstraction.

Although McKay became known for his use of mild steel, the very use of it was only a means to an end and he was careful to never be enslaved by any one material. He was primarily engaged in achieving a certain authenticity in his work, always making sure a work had something fresh and positive about the past while at the same time be opening up towards a new perception - Defiance Gallery

In the 1970s McKay began exhibiting almost annually at the Rudy Komon Galleries, Sydney, where he met Gwen Frolich. These exhibitions, ’72, ’74, ’75, ’76, ’78, ’80, ’81 and ’83 only ceased on Komon’s death and the closing of the Gallery a few years later.Ian McKay Desire 1981 welded steel.51 x 46 x 20 cm. Gwen Frolich Bequest. Photo: BRAG

Later in his career (1980 – 81) McKay moved with his wife, artist Barbara McKay and family to New York. He and Barbara spent time with influential American art critic Clement Greenberg and visited many of the major 20th century sculptures such as those of David Smith, who McKay identified with as a kindred spirit. During this time he continued to produce work such as Desire (1981) (displayed left and included in this exhibition).

After returning to Australia, the Art Gallery of NSW held a survey exhibition of McKay’s works (1984). This was the beginning of a particularly fertile time in his career. Just after the survey exhibition he moved to a property in Kurrajong, north-west Sydney, where he built a studio and a house. Here his works were allowed the space to grow; many were constructed outdoors in paddocks and often started life as reliefs on the ground.

For the most part McKay’s approach and subsequent sculptures were considered to be formalist; although this does somewhat discount the sense of life often conveyed in the works. In this sense, his works reflect who he was as a person not just as an artist.

Ian McKay passed away in 2007 at 71 years of age. Defiance Gallery, Sydney represents The Estate of Ian McKay.







Desire (1981) was composed of the parts of cast off machinery collected from under the Brooklyn Bridge. Make a list of potential material sources which are local to you.





Discuss the similarities between David Horton’s Lament, David Teer’s Trustee and Ian McKay’s Desire (above, included in this exhibition).





Visit the Tate Gallery website and view Sir Anthony Caro’s work in their collection or visit the MoMA website and view David Smith’s work in their collection.







Place a large piece of paper or cardboard on your desk or the floor. Using a collection of commonly found small materials e.g. rulers, pens, rubbers, off cuts, scissors etc. compose a small relief style sculpture on top of the paper and then trace around each of the objects to create a ‘form’. Take away the objects, using pencil or a fine liner pen render sections of the ‘form’ to create a 3D effect.





Review a selection of McKay’s works post 1985, consider the process outlined in the quote below and discuss the effect on the selected works. His large works take shape in the paddock where they seem to grow from the earth and at times he has taken to rolling his sculptures onto their side with his truck, thus radically changing their profile. Defiance Gallery.





In this McKay’s interview McKay discusses many of his influences e.g. Clement Greenberg, David Smith, Rodin, Matisse etc. Select one of these influences and discuss their effect on McKay’s sculpture practice.



IMAGES: Portrait: Ian McKay Sydney Morning Herald. Ian McKay Umber 1972 welded steel. 114 x 114 x 30 cm. Gwen Frolich Bequest. Photo: BRAG. Ian McKay Desire 1981 welded steel.51 x 46 x 20 cm. Gwen Frolich Bequest. Photo: BRAG