For Le Grand sculpture is avowedly experimental. Its 3-dimensionality denies any validity of a single view or perspective. It demands participation from its viewers, whose active engagement over time and space will ultimately reveal the work in its entirety. Peter Haynes
Michael Le Grand is one of Australia’s best known, contemporary sculptors. His work is particularly recognisable to audiences in Sydney and his home city Canberra (ACT).
Le Grand was born in Sydney into a creative family, with both parents practicing artists and potters. Michael moved with his mother to Canberra in his early teens after his parents’ divorce. His mother opened a commercial gallery in Canberra shortly after. Once he finished school Le Grand was aching to experience the world outside of art. Choosing a completely different field he worked for a few years with the Bureau of Mineral Resources carrying out geological surveys.
Almost inevitably, Le Grand enrolled in a Diploma of Art at the Victoria College of Arts (VCA) in 1972. Surprisingly painting was his first choice as a major, however, Lenton Parr, the Head of the College and respected sculptor nudged him towards sculpture as it played more towards his natural abilities.
Le Grand’s time at the Victoria College of Arts (VCA) became central to the artist he is today, not just academically but his experiences there also greatly informed the physiological aspects of his practice e.g. exposure to dedicated, committed artists of a high aesthetic calibre. Since graduating in 1974 Michael has worked almost exclusively in welded steel.
Le Grand was awarded the Visual Arts Board Travel Grant by the Australia Council in 1975. His travels took him to London by the mid-1970s where he attended the prestigious St Martin’s School of Art, London (1976-1977 Certificate of Advanced Studies). There he caught the middle of the British ‘sculptural revolution’ which was fuelled by the practice and teachings of Anthony Caro and Philip King.
Upon his return to Australia in 1977, Le Grand took stock of his time in the UK and hunkered down in his studio for a year, with the help of an Australian National University Creative Arts Fellowship (1978), to continue to develop his burgeoning stylistic direction. This connection with the Australian National University (ANU) has continued for Le Grand, from 1980 onwards he was a teacher and the Head of Sculpture until he retired in 2007. He has been an Emeritus Fellow of the university since 2010.
By the 1980s Le Grand’s work had expanded into brave new explorations of form, structure and material. During this time his sculptures opened up and often advanced into larger, more linear forms which were a departure from the more compact, sometimes congested structures produced earlier. Le Grand also started to cultivate opportunities for the works to explore the tensions between forms and spaces.
Le Grand’s almost signature component – the use of coloured high gloss auto paint emerged in the early 1990s. He began paying more attention to surface and colour of the works. The use of auto paint is important to his works as it does not just protect or ‘beautify’ the surface, it creates a sensuous quality to the works and facilitates opportunities for the play of light and chiaroscuro.
Like other post-war Australian sculptors (Inge King, Norma Redpath) Le Grand crafts into his forms a careful respect for the Australian landscape. This is best illustrated in his more public outdoor forms, in particular East meets West (1991), which sits stoically in front of the Therapeutic Goods Administration building in Symonston, ACT.
Michael has had a number of solo exhibitions both nationally and internationally and participated in many major sculpture exhibitions. He has also had a long association with the three most respected major outdoor sculpture exhibitions in Australia; the Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award (awarded a 2010 Helen Lempriere Scholarship), the McClelland Sculpture Survey and Award (2003, 2007, 2010 and 2012) and Sculpture by the Sea (exhibited regularly with Sculpture by the Sea in both Cottesloe and Bondi since 1997, and exhibited at Sculpture by the Sea, Aarhus, Denmark in 2009 and 2011. Michael was the co-winner of the first Sculpture by the Sea in 1997 and is also a member of the esteemed Decade club Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi.)
Michael Le Grand’s sculptures can be found in many collections around Australia. He is represented by MiCK gallery, Sydney and the Annabel Wallace Gallery, Murringo, NSW.
Take a long length of card and try to recreate the ribbon like shapes that often feature in Le Grand’s work.
Discuss this quote while exploring Le Grand’s image galleries on his website: Gates, doors, fences, frames and barriers are the greatest associations I can think of in relation to this recent work
Watch this clip and explore Le Grand’s use of colour in his sculpture.
Le Grand said this of his creative process: Usually I start with an idea, play with the material, run along behind it for a while, abandon some of the earlier preconceptions and expectations, and then step in to cull and tighten the image to suit my relationship with what has evolved. The difficulty is in later analysis determining just what has come about serendipitously and what was conscious aesthetic decision making. Consider your last piece of work; can you identify the steps in your creative process? Explore how these steps shaped your decisions and the outcome of the work.
In the following quote Le Grand critiques his early work. Discuss the quote: I was attempting to make sculpture that could reveal a subtle and more complex play of forms operating with and against one another. This meant that what was apparently a large single unit was in fact two or three units acting within and without one another.
Explore Le Grand’s use of colour in his sculptures in reference to one of these statements;
(a) American sculptor David Smith influenced English sculptor Anthony Caro towards the use of colour in his sculptures. Discuss how both of these artists have had an effect on Michael Le Grand’s practice.
(b) Watch this video on Colour psychology and discuss one of Le Grand’s sculptures in terms of its potential effect on the audience due to the choice of colour.
IMAGES: Portrait: Michael Le Grand Photo Rob Little RLDI. Michael Legrand Luff c. 2002. painted steel. 43 x 61 x 37 cm. Gift of Yvon Gatineau under the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program. Photo: Clare Lewis.