Lionel Bawden is known for his signature sculptural works made from myriad undulations of Staedtler hexagonal coloured pencils fused together and carved for cryptic amorphous objects that transport the everyday source material beyond the known and commonplace.
Rhythmic pulses echo patterns of landscape in Lionel Bawden’s 2016-18 series of sculptures titled Dawn Chorus. Painstakingly constructed from pencils, the wall and plinth based works in this series espouse the voids and ellipses of mountain pools and rock formations, each work cast as a different voice in a chorus of pulsating abstractions.
Dawn Chorus is a refinement of Bawden’s sustained exploration of landscape – his most essential point of reference. These works exploit Bawden’s long engagement with his core medium – the sculptural honeycomb of coloured pencils, with an innate logic continuously yielding rich possibilities for the artist. These works speak directly of the meandering lines of traversing landscape, skirting the edge of waterholes, doubling back around and walking along both sides of a canyon. Bawden synchronously transmits these terrains into visual sensations.
These sculptural forms signify Bawden’s ongoing commitment to the minimal and essential, whilst simultaneously revelling in the complexity of geometric materials and the interminable possibilities of the earth’s contours. Impeccably crafted, Bawden’s sculptures mirror his creative process, attention to detail and devotion.
“I have worked with pencils as a sculptural medium for twenty years now, so the meaning and experience of making the work has changed significantly over time. Any reading of the pencil sculptures, remains firmly rooted in the same ground in which my enquiry began – one of form, colour, geometry and metaphor. The play of the one and the many – of a utilitarian object embedded within a field of multiples. The repeated form, interconnected and forming pattern subject to a complex language of disguise and transformation. This crisp geometry of the honeycomb, one formed by many hexagonal pencils, is known to us on a cellular level, frequent within nature.
For me, working with the pencil honeycomb composite as a sculptural material provides a medium akin to the natural phenomena of wood, whilst held within it is a complex honeycomb of geometry and colour. I can create forms, which have an innate physical intimacy (as most of our bodies remember the feeling of a pencil in hand as we draw, write or colour-in.) The pencil holds a metaphor of writing or drawing, a metaphor for creation and coming into being.
Though I have become less interested in the pencil over time, finding a more sustained interest in the set of physical qualities it offers. This metaphor of ‘possibility’ and ‘creation’ is one that has become akin to the wellsprings of the human spirit and the unyielding beauty of landscape. The material is somehow cellular and fecund. It is intimate whilst unknown.
Whilst currently in a love affair with words and text – the abundance of the pencil conglomerate as sculptural material seems even more apparent. The pencil forms exploit that rich non-verbal, physical space of sensations known within the body. An early phase of my work was heavily focused on sexuality and identity. After this period of self exposure – I craved and located a material within which, themes of the personal could be submerged and generative of form- not strictly prescriptive of reading. A growing interest in ambiguity took root. For the most part these days, I want my own narrative to be a seeding ground for form, but not fundamental to a reading- I prefer to make open conduits for experience.
The strongest of the pencil works hold a balance of simplicity and complexity. I am interested in making forms that may offer sustained viewing over the long term- to make works, which continue to open up.
In simplest terms I am drawn to replicating Awe. To make a form that may invite some reflection akin to the wonderment we experience in the ‘natural world.”
– Lionel Bawden, Artist Statement, 2018
Since 2017, Bawden’s practice has expanded to include a new series of experimental works which embrace both painting and sculpture. His 2017 installation The Kandinsky has two sides, fancifully and perversely transitions the humble, off-the-shelf, limited life packets of cereal – the sites of so many morning musings from quotidian consumer objects with use-by dates – transforming them into vehicles for the artist’s aphoristic insight and philosophizing on the randomness of thought and the nature of dualities.
In 2018, Bawden presented a new series of works titled I am porous.
“Moving on from my cereal box paintings – the tissue box, as canvas and plinth becomes the perfect mass-produced consumer good, to speak of the vulnerability and permeable nature of our bodies. We take things in, we leak, we wipe the leakages away or try to hide the leakage from view…
In creating I am porous, I wanted to make a work about what it is to be a feeling body living in the world – using a consumer material that explicitly speaks of the body.
The tissue box itself speaks of interiority and expulsion. The box speaks of permeability. To begin the paper seal at the heart of the form is torn away, exposing its tender interior. The tissues held inside the body are then drawn out through the oval orifice, at first penetrated by fingers to initiate the flow, then torn away one by one, soiled and discarded.”
Lionel Bawden was born in Auburn, NSW in 1974 and currently lives and works in Northern NSW. Bawden has a Masters of Fine Arts, Sydney College of the Arts, Sydney University (2015) and a Bachelor of Visual Arts with Honours (painting) from the Australian National University Institute of the Arts, Canberra School of Art, Canberra (1997).
Bawden has exhibited widely both within Australia and internationally. His work is held in major public and private collections including the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Newcastle Region Gallery, Newcastle, NSW, Artbank, and Macquarie Bank collection.