views - Robert Hague

views - Robert Hague

DECA: 2003 – 2013

Robert Hague


DECA: 2003 – 2013

Robert Hague

Deakin University Art Gallery


Trojan Hammer (Bernini) 2013

lithograph on cotton rag paper,

100 x 70 cm,

edition of 10

Deakin University Art Collection

Gift of the artist, 2013

When I first had the pleasure of visiting Robert’s studio, I was greeted

at the door and led through a suburban house full of the typical

items of a family home, with the exception of the stunning artworks

adorning the walls. We then emerged into a cosy back yard and

the entrance to his studio. The first glimpse of his artwork was the

meticulously stored prints but around the corner is a fascinating

sculptor’s studio, full of large and small sculptures and any tool

you can imagine. You can see a tantalising glimpse of this in the

reproduction of Aporia II, now owned by the Beck Property Group

but pictured in the artist’s studio in 2011 (page 20). Walking through

this space one ascends a staircase to a mezzanine level, arriving at a

small drawing studio with a large and cluttered drawing table.

Prints and drawings are not something that I had associated with

Robert’s work when I first saw it in 2009. In 2010 he won the second

Deakin University Contemporary Small Sculpture Award with Trojan

Hammer (200%). A humorous take on calls for increased productivity,

where the clear function of the object contrasts so strongly with the

delicate patina and gold patterning on the handle that it effectively

renders it useless.

Trojan Hammer (200%) is but one work from a series, in both

printmaking and sculpture that relates to this classic tool of the

sculptor, a recurring theme in Robert’s recent work. Around the

middle of 2012 he had returned to drawing after a 20 year absence

and the resultant series of lithographic prints ‘returned him to an art

form that he deeply loved, utilising the metaphorical image of the

hammer, a tool of both creation and destruction.’ 1 I am in awe of the

skills of his draughtsmanship and the seemingly effortless way he

can return to an art form after such a long absence with such

consummate skill.

Within this catalogue we are privileged to have contributions

from two accomplished authors who have each covered an aspect

of Robert’s work with great finesse. I would like to thank Ashley

Crawford and Ken Scarlett for their insightful catalogue essays and

the extra insight they give us into the development of Robert’s work.

I would like to thank Robert for his assistance in the development of

the exhibition and related catalogue and offer him my congratulations.

I would also like to thank him for his generous gift of two prints to

the Deakin University Art Collection earlier this year. These works

supplement our holding of his work which already included a print

from the hammer series.

Finally thanks are extended to the many private collectors who have

generously loaned works for the exhibition and gave permission for

their collections to be acknowledged.

I find Robert an enigma. On the one hand he presents as someone

who works in the strong traditions of sculpture, having had an

illustrious upbringing, but on the other hand he can reconnect with

drawing and present a new, humorous and engaging body of work

with effortless skill. In the decade 2003 – 2013 described by this

survey, he has grown considerably as an artist and proven willing to

embrace change. He is a man raised in tradition yet embracing the

new world.

Leanne Willis

Manager Art Collection and Galleries

1. Quote by artist reproduced on his website

4 5

Breaking the mould

The present is productive, the past has been complex and the future,

though unknown, is looking decidedly positive for Robert Hague,

sculptor and more recently, printmaker as well. One wonders how

he has arrived at his present position.

His father was a hobbyist sculptor producing sexy female nudes –

to the embarrassment of his wife – but undoubtedly this familiarity

with sculpture was an early influence. As an adolescent, he knew he

wanted to be an artist, which at the time meant being a painter; the

fact that at the age of 16 he sold his painting in the local Rotorua City

Art Prize seemed to confirm this decision. His first job, however, was

as a photographer and film developer and this opened up further

possibilities: would he become a sculptor, a painter or a photographer?

However, ignoring the possibility of tertiary training at an art school,

Hague decided to escape the confines of the tourist town of Rotorua

and with a friend set off to see the world – first stop Australia. As he

stated, ‘I felt it was compulsory to leave. It was the done thing.’ 1 After

travelling in Australia for some months, he settled in Melbourne in

1986 where he ‘struggled to paint, concentrated on photography

and my first clay and plaster sculptures.’ 2 Having had no contact with

sculptors nor being familiar with abstract sculpture, his first works were

understandably figurative; his father proved to be the major influence.

He then travelled to London for a year before returning to Australia

and settling in Sydney in 1995; he established a studio in the old

Newtown Flour Mills. A year later he began exhibiting sculpture at

Defiance Gallery, run by Ron Robertson-Swann’s brother. This proved

to be a fortuitous link, for when Hague had to vacate his studio

Ron made a generous offer: while he was teaching, the young artist

could use his studio and when the older sculptor was working in the

studio, Hague could act as studio assistant. This mutually beneficial

arrangement lasted from late 1999 until 2003.

In retrospect, however, the close contact with Ron Robertson-

Swann also had its draw-backs. Known as a formidable proponent

of the theories of Anthony Caro, and someone who as a teacher

in Canberra and Sydney had greatly influenced a considerable

number of practitioners, his impact on Hague was similarly significant.

Nevertheless, it did mean that he was looking at sculpture, making

sculpture and discussing sculpture every day of the week. He also

had access to Robertson-Swann’s extensive library and consequently

became familiar with the work of both David Smith and Anthony Caro.

Hague readily admits that this period was ‘hugely influential – I met

many artists. At first I was a protégée, then I outgrew the relationship

and became the difficult child. Then I left, but it was all harmonious.’

During these years he produced a considerable number of small

sculptures – compact, tightly organised and impeccably crafted.

Looking back he says with brutal honesty, ‘I was making little Rons

and little Caros.’ Despite this self-criticism, however, it was obvious

that his development as a sculptor had been very rapid.

A switch to Stella Downer’s Gallery at the newly established Danks

Street Complex in Sydney gave him greater exposure and brought his

After Athena (detail), 2007

bronze, stainless steel, corten steel, 251 x 1300 x 65 cm

Alara Gardens, Private collection, Victoria

work to the attention of the director of Lister Calder Gallery in Perth.

Here he had his first solo exhibition in 2003 and, incredibly, on the

opening night sold the entire group of 30 works. This was indeed

a remarkable achievement for an artist who could state, ‘I didn’t

make any money for 20 years.’ It was also a massive boost to both his

reputation and his ego. Following exhibitions with Stella Downer were

also sell-outs. As a sculptor, Robert Hague had undoubtedly arrived.

Corporate commissions and sales to major collectors followed.

2005 was also a highly significant year for Hague. In London he

visited Anthony Caro and spent a morning with him at his studio.

It was a very amicable meeting and in fact Caro suggested that

Hague might like to work as his assistant. Hague, however, felt he

wished to remain independent and establish his own career and in

effect the visit became a symbolic event, marking the conclusion

of a distant, but very powerful influence.

While in London Hague also visited the British Museum where he

stood in wonder before the Elgin Marbles, admiring the skill with

which the figures had been placed within the triangular confines

of the pediment of the Parthenon. This classical sculpture, in fact,

became the unlikely source for a most ambitious work on his return

to Sydney: entitled After Athena, it consisted of eleven corten steel

plinths on which there were ten pieces of sculpture. In abstract

versions, the sculptures repeated the basic compositions of the

complex figure group he’d observed in the British Museum –

and on the eleventh plinth was a stone mason’s hammer.

Hague realises the significance of this work in the development

of his personal style, for it became visible proof of his break with

the Caro tradition. He wrote, ‘In many ways I feel that After Athena

doubles as a letter of resignation. The literal elements, the text, the

over-sized plinths and the classical subject matter, has hopefully

mocked the dogma that here stands for reason.’ 3

And one small, apparently minor part of this large, complex sculpture

took on an existence all of its own. The stone mason’s hammer led

to an astonishing range of small sculptures totally different from any

of his previous work. The hammer grew wings and flew like a gentle

moth or ominously as a dark bomber, it blew loudly as a trumpet

or posed symbolically as a Celtic cross. Then, in 2010, his Trojan

Hammer won the Deakin Sculpture Award. Here, instead of two

heads, this simple and honest tool had developed four heads, which

made it either twice as useful or conversely, utterly useless. And in

total rejection of Caroesque aesthetics, the handle was elegantly

decorated. ‘The delicate gold patterning refers to the practice of

early settlers decorating their most cherished tools, as a mark of

identity and possession: ornamentation that marked an object or

person as belonging. In a sweet irony the patterning also renders

the hammer ineffectual (for fear of damage).’ 4

These works based on the hammer are sometimes serious,

sometimes absurd, frequently amusing, but always fascinating

pieces of sculpture. The intrinsic decoration, which appears to be

a cardinal sin in terms of Modernism, may have its origin in Hague’s

New Zealand background: he grew up in a Maori tribal area and the

intricate patterns are reminiscent of Maori tattooing and intricate

wood carving.

Subsequently, Hague took another common piece of contemporary

industrial equipment – this time, not a hand tool but rather, the

large-scale excavator – as the basis of several works. When the first

version was exhibited on the foreshore as part of Lorne Sculpture

2011, it appeared initially as a work in progress until one realised that

it was actually a piece of sculpture. As with his hammers, Hague was

deliberately confusing the spectator with its ambiguity.

A second, even larger version in stainless steel, produced in 2012,

added to the complexity and ambiguity. With the mechanical arm

folded back and the shovel silhouetted against the sky, this monument

to a mechanical age was placed on an over-large, ornamental base.

Where Caro may have abandoned the plinth, Hague was not only

putting it back, but also making it a major part of the composition.

And further, he was decorating the supportive column of the plinth

with a linear pattern, akin to 19th century decorative cast iron –

‘wholly incongruous to the machismo of the machine’. 5

Hague appears to have achieved a rare and unlikely combination

of abstraction and decoration allied with underlying concepts.

Spectators may enjoy the formal arrangement of forms and at the

same time be fascinated by a light-hearted hammer that blows

its own trumpet or the oblique threat of hammers that double as

revolvers. Other viewers will perhaps be confused by the ambiguity,

attempting to decide if the work in front of them is a piece of

mechanical equipment or indeed a piece of sculpture.

Some years ago Robert Hague wrote, ‘I’ve not sought to push concept

or elaborate meaning with my sculpture. Each piece should follow its

own rules, and live or fail on the strength of its form alone.’ What a

change has occurred! He has learnt from his past, he hasn’t ignored the

formal values, but he has greatly enlarged the possibilities: his ideas

range from serious social comment to the light-hearted and absurd.

No longer pure abstraction, but closer to the often-confusing issues

of life, the concerns of our age.

The change has actually been fundamental. ‘This has caused me great

confusion and distress akin to being reborn as an altogether different

artist.’ But what a fortunate sculptor! Who wouldn’t welcome the

chance to be reborn, to put the past behind and start afresh?

Ken Scarlett OAM, 2013

1 Unless otherwise stated, all comments by Robert Hague are taken from an interview

with the author 11 March 2013.

2 ‘Robert Hague: Timeline.’ Collated by Robert Hague.

3 Letter to the author 16 November 2006.

4 Robert Hague quoted in Media Release, Deakin University., 5 November 2010.

5 Email to the author from Robert Hague 12 March 2013.

After Athena (Maquette), 2008

bronze, stainless steel, corten steel, 55 x 225 x 35 cm

Collection of the Artist

6 7

Low, 2003

painted steel, 20 x 30 x 16.5 cm

The Ian and Sue Bernadt Collection, Perth

Repose, 2003

bronze, 21 x 27.5 x 12.5 cm

Private collection, Sydney

Composition VI, 2004

painted steel, 88.5 x 45 x 26 cm

Collection of Axel Arnott, Sydney

8 9

Brink, 2004

painted steel, 57.5 x 45 x 23.5 cm

Private collection, Auckland

A Red Prayer, 2004

painted steel, 95.5 x 33 x 17.5 cm

Private collection, Sydney

Horse of Selene (Maquette), 2009

stainless steel, 15 x 35 x 12 cm

Private collection, Perth

Knot, 2008

bronze, 26.5 x 56 x 20 cm

Collection of the Artist

One Mile (Maquette), 2005

bronze, 15.5 x 31 x 8 cm

Collection of Jim and Natalie Hague, New Zealand

10 11

Hyph, 2007

bronze, 24ct gold, 197 x 71 x 50 cm including base

The Baillieu and Sarah Myer Collection, Elgee Park, Victoria

Deca, 2008

bronze, 24ct gold, 30 x 12 x 5 cm each

Collection of Louisa and Rowland Hirst, New York

12 13

After Athena, 2007

bronze, stainless steel, corten steel, 251 x 1300 x 65 cm

Alara Gardens, Private collection, Victoria

14 15

Sensu, 2009

stainless steel, 50 x 50 x 38 cm

Collection of Pam and Stuart Graham, Melbourne

Trojan Hammer (Pistol), 2010

aluminium, 40.5 x 27.5 x 7 cm

Private collection, Melbourne

16 17

Trojan Hammer (Scope), 2009

bronze, brass telescope, 29 to 75 x 13.5 x 7.5 cm

Private collection, Melbourne

Trojan Hammer (Femur), 2009

bronze, 24ct gold, 42 x 13.5 x 7 cm

Collection of Dr Robin Anderson, Melbourne

Trojan Hammer (200%), 2010

bronze, 24ct gold, 39.5 x 13.5 x 13.5 cm

Winner Deakin University Contemporary Small Sculpture Award, 2010

Deakin University Art Collection

Trojan Hammer (Cloth), 2010

carrara marble, 6 x 40.5 x 15 cm

From the collection of the Consulate of Malawi

18 19

Monument, 2011

corten steel, 400 x 310 x 140 cm

The John and Pauline Gandel Collection, Victoria, at Lorne 2011

Aporia II, 2012

stainless steel, 280 x 152 x 90 cm

Beck Property Group Collection, Leopold Building, Melbourne, at Artist’s studio 2011

West Orbis, 2010

stainless steel, bronze, 380 x 210 x 100 cm

Collection of John and Pauline Gandel, Chadstone Shopping Centre, Melbourne

20 21

The Trojan Hammer

‘Art is not a mirror held up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it.’ Bertolt Brecht

‘A crime has been committed, perhaps art.’ Robert Hague

Friday, 04 January 2013 15:04

FBI: More Club and Hammer Homicides than Rifle

Reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s annual

crime statistics reveal that more hammers, clubs, and other

blunt objects are involved in murders than rifles or shotguns.

The hammer lies against a paisley patterned sheet. It is, quite simply, a

murderous image. The only question is whether Robert Hague has wrapped

the oil-cloth over the hammer’s head to conceal the gore or has he wrapped

it for future use – to burn the tarnished cloth and hide the evidence?

Known well as a sculptor, Hague’s most recent work – a major series of

lithographs – is based firmly in the world of drawing, an activity that is

as time honoured as his subject.

His central icon in this series takes on innumerable roles. The earliest

hammer was no doubt a rock, or perhaps bone and it was also, with little

doubt, originally a killing machine, an easier way to pummel prey for

food or cause the demise of an enemy or invader. As time went by metal

was discovered and forged and the hammer thrived for some time as the

ultimate form of human technology.

The hammer can be seen as a symbol of work and creativity. It can be

seen as a symbol of class solidarity (the Hammer and Sickle). Hague’s

Trojan Hammers, however, go far further.

February 29, 2012 8:54 am

Hammer used as weapon in Nampa – Idaho Press-Tribune

Kelly A. Singh, 40, was confronted by police on the 4400

block of Long Valley Place after reports of a possible

disturbance. Singh was uncooperative and had blood on

her clothing and hands, Nampa Police Chief Leroy Forsman

said. Upon entering the home, officers found Ruth Collins,

69, suffering from head trauma in a bedroom. Collins was

transported to Saint Alphonsus Medical Center, but died

a short time later. During the investigation, Forsman

continued, police recovered what they believe is the

murder weapon. That weapon was revealed at Singh’s

Wednesday afternoon arraignment to be a hammer.

At St. Peter’s Basilica in 1972 a man attacked the ‘Pietà’ with a hammer.

He damaged the face and neck of the Virgin Mary sculpture, as well as the

left forearm, which fell to the floor and broke apart. It is hard not to think

of such events when considering one of Hague’s lithographs that doesn’t

feature a hammer specifically. Trojan Hammer (Urn) instead depicts a Ming

vase, it’s fate inevitable it would seem.

But then perhaps not. Looking closely the hammer head is concealed in

the base of the vase. Is the hammer rendered impotent by its’ fragility?

Or has the vase become a hidden weapon, its ponderous and dangerous

weight concealed. Art with which to bludgeon its’ admirers? Art, as Brecht

puts it, created to shape a culture.

Trojan Hammer (Urn), 2013

lithograph on cotton rag paper, 65 x 65 cm, edition of 10

Gift of the artist. Deakin University Art Collection.

Trojan Hammer (Moth) 2012

lithograph on cotton rag paper, 30 x 46 cm, edition of 10

Purchase, 2012 Deakin University Art Collection

22 23

Trojan Hammer (Balloon), 2013

lithograph on cotton rag paper, 55 x 42 cm, edition of 10

19 April 2011

US artist’s controversial Piss Christ attacked

A controversial piece of art which shows a crucifix

bathed in urine has been vandalised in a gallery

in southern France. The work by US artist Andres

Serrano – called Piss Christ – is supposed to make

a statement about the misuse of religion.

Hague’s variations on his theme describe a seemingly neverending

adaptation. In Trojan Hammer (Violin) he strings his

hammer and adorns it with a hand-carved scroll and peg-box.

That, one would think, is surreal enough in itself. But then Hague

casts the hammer’s shadow as a Celtic cross. Music, religion and

ancient history are evoked and weighted down by the heavy iron

of the hammer’s head.

Similarly Trojan Hammer (Femur) and Trojan Hammer (Malleus)

call to mind both the source of this basic technology and its

potentially gruesome history a la the primate tool of murder

in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

While in most of these images the hammer’s head acts as ballast,

in a strange but all too apt inversion, in Trojan Hammer (Balloon)

the hammer’s apex is a floating American flag, hovering ominously,

the perfect symbol of American imperialism and hegemony.

Hague’s repetitive and imaginative symbolism makes the viewer

realise how potent and pervasive the hammer really is. It can be a

piece of anatomy (malleus), a part of a gun or musical instrument

or a sporting implement and Hague has, of course, made use of

his Trojan Hammer to build things of great beauty and potency.

Ashley Crawford, February 2013

Author’s note: Newspaper quotes sourced from Reuters and AAP reports,

including ‘FBI more club and hammer homicides than rifle’, The New American,

January 4, 2013

Trojan Hammer (Osprey), 2013

lithograph on cotton rag paper, 60 x 40 cm, edition of 10

Trojan Hammer (Violin), 2013

lithograph on cotton rag paper, 40 x 58 cm, edition of 10

Trojan Hammer (Clowns), 2013

lithograph on cotton rag paper, 45 x 33 cm, edition of 10

24 25


– artist and contributors

Robert Hague has established a vibrant, varied and unique

international career. Building from a traditional sculptor’s training,

as assistant to Ron Robertson-Swann OAM (formerly an assistant

to Henry Moore), Hague is now recognised as an intelligent and

virtuoso maker, who adeptly deals with the increasingly blurred

lines between abstraction and narrative.

He has won numerous awards including the Lorne Indoor Sculpture

Prize (2011), the Deakin University Contemporary Small Sculpture

Award (2010) and the Director’s Prize, Sculpture by the Sea (1999).

Significant commissions include: Drift (2012), an 8m wall sculpture,

Hawaii, USA. Aporia (2011), The Leopold, Melbourne. Sol (2010),

the Polo Club Hotel, Tianjin, China. West Orbis (2009), Chadstone

Shopping Centre, Melbourne. Decent (2007), for 50th Anniversary,

Thredbo, Mt Kosciuszko. Genus (2005), Sovereign Centre, Sydney.

Fervor (2005), Four Seasons Hotel, Hong Kong. Orbis (2005),

Emporio Apartments, Sydney and the Ocean Series (2001), a 20

sculpture, patron commission for Sculpture by the Sea, Sydney.

Across the span of works in this survey exhibition is an opportunity

to see a thoughtful artist of great facility, openly and honestly

grappling with the rigors of studio practice and research.

Ken Scarlett OAM is a writer specialising in Australian sculpture.

His 1980 publication Australian Sculptors was the first to present

a survey of sculpture in Australia. Publications include Sculpture

in Public Gardens and Elgee Park: Sculpture in the Landscape.

He is a contributing editor to Sculpture (magazine), USA and

more recently has curated exhibitions in major galleries, including

McClelland Gallery and Heide Museum of Modern Art.

Ashley Crawford is a freelance cultural critic based in Melbourne.

He writes regularly on the arts for The Age, The Australian, The

Financial Review and The SMH newspapers and has written for

the Australian Art Collector, Art World, Art Monthly, Eyeline and

numerous other magazines. He is the author of a number of books

on Australian art and is the former editor of World Art, 21.C and

Photofile magazines.

Robert Hague: Deca: 2013

Exhibition Dates

5 June to 13 July 2013

Deakin University Art Gallery

© 2013 the artist, the authors and publisher. Copyright to

the works is retained by the artist and his/her descendants.

No part of this publication may be copied, stored in a

retrieval system, transmitted or reproduced in any form

or by any means without the prior written permission of

the publisher and the individual copyright holder(s).

The views expressed within are those of the author(s) and

artist and do not necessarily represent the views held by

Deakin University.

Unless otherwise indicated all images are reproduced

and supplied courtesy the artist.

Image measurements are height x width x depth.

All photography by the artist and all images are reproduced

courtesy of the artist.

All lithographs printed by Lancaster Press.

The artist wishes to thank the collectors, the staff of Deakin

Art Gallery and specifically his beautiful wife Daniella,

printmaker Peter Lancaster, Geoffrey Ricardo and Ian Burns.

Published by Deakin University

ISBN 978-0-9872954-3-9

Edition 2000 copies

Catalogue design by Jasmin Tulk

Deakin University Art Gallery

Deakin University Melbourne Campus at Burwood,

221 Burwood Highway Burwood 3125

T +61 3 9244 5344

F +61 3 9244 5254


Gallery hours

Tuesday–Friday 10 am–4 pm

Saturday 1 pm–5 pm

Free entry

Deakin University CRICOS Provider Code: 00113B

Cover: Monument 2012

stainless steel, powdered plaster and the choral

music of Tallis (1505-1585), 270 x 135 x 122 cm

Installation at the Substation Arts Centre, Melbourne

Inside cover: Trojan Hammer (Jet) 2008

bronze, 24ct gold, 39.5 x 68 x 6 cm

Private collection, Glasgow



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