Bawden transforms the colour pencil, that staple material of childhood, in his depictions of thriving cerebral landscapes that are at once strange and familiar. Reminiscent of our impetus for invention, the variously formed sculptures suggest the myriad of forms from which our ideas take shape.
Early in his career, the pencil occurred to Bawden as metaphorically rich, holding, he says, “the notion of ‘the expression of an idea’ within it; a drawing held in delicate suspension inside the material”. Symbolising the capacity of the pencil to function as a creative outlet, intimate associations with the artist’s everyday life are induced, inciting reflection upon our desire for self-expression.
The rigidity of the pencil’s physical attributes enables Bawden to sculpt shapes inspired by the experience of the landscape, patterns in nature, quantum physics and the abstracted figure. Transcribing his experience of the three-dimensional world into objects, the shapes evoked from the imagination are both proverbial and transcendental.
Intersecting with the world of industrial design, systems of geometry have consistently factored in the creation of Bawden’s works. At once compressing and expanding, geometric networks function as channels for various associations and dialogues.
Fixed within the visual realm, their fundamental ability to expand and progress fuels the artist’s references to personal experience and global phenomena.
Forming his own language from carving sculptures out of what he calls “honeycomb conglomerates of hexagonal pencils”, the rigid machine-made geometry of the material is juxtaposed with the sensual organic forms that he moulds. To Bawden, the honeycomb pattern also suggests the one-minded/many-minded beehive and the microcosm of cellular organisms.
To Bawden, the concept for a new body of work may emerge from a single theme or group of thoughts. “The ideas brew for a long time, often starting from a single small sketch or idea scrawled in a sketchbook,” he says. “Then I will make a whole series of work emerging from that seed over six months or a year.”
When moving between bodies of work, he says, one series of sculptures often informs another: “It is common for the final work in a series or the point of highest resolve to become the parent of the next generation of forms.” Continuing to evolve creatively, each body of work is connected, inspiring the next evolution.
As Bawden’s works have progressed, his working methods have adjusted, simplifying or complicating the sculptural forms as required. While his earlier pieces took measures to disguise the material, his recent works have attempted to expose the nature of his chosen form.
In allowing the tip of the pencil to protrude from the surface, or in revealing the raw geometry of the dissected pencil, a stronger voice for the medium has been granted.
In Bawden’s first solo exhibition at GrantPirrie in 2002, Brought Forth by Our Fingers, beautiful organisms in varying earthy hues appeared as though indigenous sculptures, totemic references to our childhood. Taking measures to reveal the medium in which he works, exposed pencil tips further evoked this sense of nostalgia.
From literature to human relationships, Bawden’s artistic influences are varied. The forms of his 2004 series The Monsters, were inspired by the cult 1961 science-fiction novel Solaris by Polish author Stanislaw Lem.
The monstrous forms explored manifestations of science, planetary surfaces and the subconscious. The undulating and expressive planes of these sculptures maintained a certain beauty in their grotesqueness.
Graduating from menacing to embracing in his 2006 series My Body Remembers, exhibited through GrantPirrie at the Melbourne Art Fair, figure and object fused and entangled as though lovers.
Forging areas of encounter, physical consummation operated as a metaphor for fusion and exchange, invoking the body as the primary point of reference. The visceral, physical and humanistic volumes of these fleshy objects appealed directly to the senses.
In each object, morphological configurations revealed the intersection of two components locked in embrace, rendering boundaries indistinct, absorbed in the infinite possibilities of exchange between form and idea.
Bawden’s most recent series, New works on paper, was both a reference to the paper stacks of American artist Felix Gonzales Torres and a return to the notion of holding a drawing in suspension within the sculptural form.
Additionally informed by Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, the works explored the idea that monotony is essential to the human condition, allowing beauty to be glimpsed in the everyday wonders around us.
White sculptures presented on stacks of white paper, awash in the mass of white on white, showed the beauty in the prosaic, and the varying forms in which an idea can be communicated.
The idea of ‘finding form’ is central to Bawden’s thinking, in the unearthing of form from a sculptural material and from the notion that our lives gradually find their own form and that our actions and experience combined with chance carve our everyday lives.