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Public art goes big at Queen’s Wharf Brisbane

Around thirteen million dollars worth of public art on a grand scale will make Queen’s Wharf Brisbane a unique destination.

Jun 20, 2024, updated Jun 20, 2024
Queen's Wharf Brisbane specialist arts advisory panel members Avril Quaill and Philip Bacon with artist Justene Williams (centre) and her major sculpture Sheila at Piperides Art Foundry in Geebung, Brisbane. Photo by Louis Lim

Queen's Wharf Brisbane specialist arts advisory panel members Avril Quaill and Philip Bacon with artist Justene Williams (centre) and her major sculpture Sheila at Piperides Art Foundry in Geebung, Brisbane. Photo by Louis Lim

She’s a big sheila but you can’t say that nowadays. Can you? Although in the case of Brisbane artist Justene Williams’ massive bronze sculpture that will be part of the public art offering at the new $3.6billion Queen’s Wharf Brisbane, you actually can.

Because her work is called Sheila. We are talking about a massive five-metre high, five-tonne goddess-like bronze sculpture which will stand at the Queen’s Wharf Plaza on the river side of the existing Commissariat Store within 7.5 hectares of public space within the burgeoning entertainment and tourism project.

Sheila is one of eight works commissioned for Queen’s Wharf Brisbane which is being developed by the Destination Brisbane Consortium of which The Star Entertainment Group is the major partner. Respected art dealer Philip Bacon leads the project’s specialist arts advisory panel which also includes curator Liz Nowell and Indigenous curator and arts administrator Avril Quaill. Th panel chose the art for the project.

And that art will be installed on site by around late July to prepare for the staged opening of the precinct.

Several of the major works have been made at Perides Art Foundry at Geebung while the major Lindy Lee sculpture Being Swallowed by the Milky Way (an eight-metre, eight-tonne bronze) was made nearby at Urban Arts Projects’ Northgate foundry.

Standing beneath Sheila Philip Bacon says he is in awe of the piece.

“It’s so much bigger and better than I ever imagined,” Bacon says. “Sheila is earthy and primal and encapsulates the essence of female fecundity.”

Bacon praised Star’s commitment to spend around $13million on public art as “a point of difference”.

“It’s what people will remember,” he says. “It’s a big leap of faith when you commission anything . You’re never sure what will happen but we’re very happy with the results and there has been a 100 per cent commitment from Star and everyone there has been fantastic.”

Artist Justene  Williams is, by her own description, diminutive,  and standing in the Piperides  Art Foundry beneath her creation, which was  carved out of foam onsite before being cast, she is happily dwarfed by it.

“I always want to make big things but this is the biggest,” Williams says. “It’s my first real public art work.”

It was inspired by ancient fertility symbols  and her young daughter Honore’s fascination with toy figurines.

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“My daughter is interested in superheroes and loves her plastic figurines so I took that and gave the sculpture gravitas,” she says. “This will be a giant monument to the human form with four breasts, back and front. The name Sheila riffs on the slang term for an Aussie woman but it is also the female character carved on stone mainly in Europe from the 11th century which has interpretations of protector, fertility and empathy.

“She will also feature a stainless-steel halo that is open to interpretation and self-reflection. Williams, who lectures at the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, is thrilled with how Philip Piperides (a sculptor himself) and the team at the foundry have brought her figure to life.

Visiting the foundry other works were also nearing completion including Destiny, a large scale five-metre-high aluminum sculpture of three mullet fish perched on a bull shark shaped shelter by esteemed Yolngu artist Mr. Wanambi who passed away in 2022.

Avril Quaill says the First Nations artists represented will inspire a new generation.

“It will inspire young and emerging artists, to see public art such as this on display at such scale,” Ms. Quaill says. Philip Piperides and his team are also working on Indigenous artist Tony Albert’s 15metre floating art garden Inhabitant.

There will be eight major public artworks in total including two by international artists – Britain’s  Sir Antony Gormley and American contemporary creative Tom Friedman.

Antony Gormley’s Fold II is a thought-provoking iron and steel sculpture depicting a couple in a tender embrace, which will be positioned at the base of the Brisbane Steps leading to the Bicentennial bikeway.

A larger-than-life three-metre-high aluminum man created by Tom Friedman, called Looking Up, which was previously on display in New York’s Rockefeller Center, will be showcased at the grassed riverfront space, The Landing.

queenswharfbrisbane.com.au

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