Parliament House is currently

The integration of commissioned art and craft works into Parliament House enriches the surfaces and spaces throughout the building.

Artists, craftspeople and fabricators collaborated closely with the architects and the Parliament House Construction Authority in an unprecedented program to design and install some 70 separate works in metal, timber, clay, glass, fabric and stone, each devised for a particular location. Some of the best known examples of this collaboration include the Forecourt Mosaic by Michael Nelson Jagamara, and the unique marquetry panels in the Marble Foyer.

Forecourt mosaic, Parliament House, Canberra (Possum and Wallaby Dreaming)

Michael Nelson Jagamara (born 1946) Luritja/Warlpiri peoples, fabricated by William McIntosh, Aldo Rossi and Franco Colussi
Forecourt Mosaic Pavement, Parliament House Canberra (Possum and Wallaby Dreaming), 1986–1987
100,000 granite setts on cement
Reproduced with permission of the Artist through the Aboriginal Artists’ Agency Ltd
Photograph courtesy of the Parliament House Art Collection, Canberra ACT
© The artist licensed by Aboriginal Artists’ Agency Ltd

 

The Forecourt Mosaic Pavement is situated at the front of Parliament House, and is a starting point both for the building and for the historical development of the country. As a remarkable and deeply meaningful presence, the Forecourt Mosaic serves as an unmistakable reference to the original and unbroken presence of Indigenous people in Australia.

The Forecourt Mosaic Pavement is a key work that fulfils the architects’ vision for the integration of commissioned art and craft works into the building and landscape. In 1985, a group of five artists from Papunya in the Northern Territory were presented with a design brief for the mosaic. Each painter submitted two designs for consideration. The selected artist was Michael Nelson Jagamara with his design Possum and Wallaby Dreaming, depicting a gathering of a large group of people from the kangaroo, wallaby and goanna ancestors. The group are meeting to talk and enact ceremonial obligations. The work derives from the sand-painting tradition of the Warlpiri people, and has complex layers of meaning known only to Warlpiri elders.

The production process was an activity in precision and patience.  Under the direction of stone consultant William McIntosh, two Italian-trained stone masons, Franco Colussi and Aldo Rossi, led the installation. The construction on-site took approximately five months, with two to four square metres of the pavement completed per day.

Robin Blau (born 1946) Coat of Arms (Main Entrance) Parliament House Canberra (1986–1987)

Robin Blau (born 1946)
Coat of Arms (Main Entrance) Parliament House Canberra, (1986–1987)
Stainless steel
Gifted by the Parliament and people of New South Wales, 1988
Gifts Collection, Parliament House Art Collection

 

This is one of two coat of arms sculptures that artist Robin Blau was commissioned to make for Parliament House in 1986 as gifts from the Parliament and people of New South Wales. The 3.9-metre tall sculpture is situated above the main entrance.

At the time, Robin Blau was a recent graduate of the Sydney College of the Arts in sculpture and jewellery design, and also had skills as an architectural draftsman. Blau’s diverse abilities were revealed in his design submission drawings and finely-detailed sterling silver scale model of the monumental Coat of Arms, despite never having had a public commission before. In integrating his design in proximity to the Forecourt Mosaic Pavement and the Great Verandah’s glazed roof, Blau used stainless steel rods in an abstracted geometric form, obliquely referencing the tradition of the ‘X-ray’ technique in Aboriginal bark paintings. The artist hand-fabricated the work – an extremely complex process made more challenging by the large scale of the coat of arms. The final form contains over 700 precision stainless steel welds.

Tony Bishop (artist, born 1940) and Michael Retter (fabricator, born 1935), Marquetry Panels

Tony Bishop (artist, born 1940) and Michael Retter (fabricator, born 1935)
Marquetry Panels
Various veneers inlaid into base veneers, MDF substrate
Parliament House Art Collection

The twenty decorative timber inlay panels (known as marquetry) that depict native flora from around Australia in the Marble Foyer were designed by Adelaide artist Tony Bishop, and fabricated by Sydney craftsman Michael Retter. The project was another of the key commissions proposed by architects Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp, with their intention to create a sequence of symbolic spaces along the north and south axis of the building. The marquetry panels refer not only to the Australian landscape, but to the entwined histories of Indigenous and European cultures.

Bishop’s research involved travel across Australia. He devoted the six panels on the northern side to plants used by Aboriginal people for food and medicine, such as yam, quandong and bunya pine. On the southern side the artist chose species that were of interest to British botanist Sir Joseph Banks on his arrival in Australia in 1770. These include wattle, waratah and various eucalypts. The four panels on each of the west and east sides depict examples of Australia’s ancient vegetation, including rainforest flora up to two hundred million years old.

The timbers used in the fabrication of the panels mirror the broad range of Australian timbers used throughout the building. The panels consist of a central coachwood background bordered vertically with the darker toned jarrah. Together Bishop and Retter selected the most appropriate timber to achieve the tonal variations in the flora. These included Queensland walnut, poplar, kauri pine, camphor laurel and Australian red cedar.

Shown above are (clockwise from top left):  Native Hibiscus [Alyogyne hakeifolia], BanksiaIdiospermum australiensis and Cycads [Cycadaceae].

Kay Lawrence (born 1947) Red Gorge two views, 1987–1988.

Kay Lawrence (born 1947)
Red Gorge two views, 1987–1988
Woven wool, cotton and linen yarns, cotton warp
Parliament House Art Collection

 

The tapestry Red Gorge two views was commissioned for the Prime Minister’s Dining Room. The tapestry was designed and fabricated by South Australian weaver Kay Lawrence.

In her descriptions of the design for the work, Lawrence wrote:

The design for the tapestry is based on three drawings juxtaposed with three photographs of Red Gorge in the Flinders Ranges in South Australia. The original images were made in 1982 and assembled in 1984. The work explores the difference in modes of representation of the landscape by juxtaposing two sets of conventions: Aboriginal and European, painting and photography, and by including both close-up and distant views…The interpretation will emphasise the difference between the photographic and painted images by using different weaving techniques to create tone and blend colour in those two areas.

Michael Ramsden (born 1944) and Graham Oldroyd (born 1953) Six River Odyssey panels, 1986–1988.

Michael Ramsden (born 1944) and Graham Oldroyd (born 1953)
Six River Odyssey panels, 1986–1988
Glazed ceramic castable material
Parliament House Art Collection

 

These six large-scale ceramic friezes are located on the south wall of Mural Hall on the Second Floor of the Members’ Hall. Mural Hall is used as a gathering or meeting place as well as the setting for Parliamentary presentations, receptions, and other functions. Ceramic was specified as the medium for this commissioned work, so that the work would not be damaged over time by the high light levels in the space.

The work is a collaboration between two New South Wales artists; ceramicist Graham Oldroyd and artist Michael Ramsden. Over two years of intensive work on the frieze’s development and fabrication, Ramsden and Oldroyd created and installed the 190 hand-fabricated glazed tiles which comprise in the six frieze panels set flush within apertures in the wall.

Michael Ramsden (born 1944) and Graham Oldroyd (born 1953) Six River Odyssey panels, 1986–1988.

Michael Ramsden (born 1944) and Graham Oldroyd (born 1953)
Six River Odyssey panels, 1986–1988
Glazed ceramic castable material
Parliament House Art Collection

Michael Ramsden (born 1944) and Graham Oldroyd (born 1953) Six River Odyssey panels, 1986–1988.

Michael Ramsden (born 1944) and Graham Oldroyd (born 1953)
Six River Odyssey panels, 1986–1988
Glazed ceramic castable material
Parliament House Art Collection

Michael Ramsden (born 1944) and Graham Oldroyd (born 1953) Six River Odyssey panels, 1986–1988.

Michael Ramsden (born 1944) and Graham Oldroyd (born 1953)
Six River Odyssey panels, 1986–1988
Glazed ceramic castable material
Parliament House Art Collection

Michael Ramsden (born 1944) and Graham Oldroyd (born 1953) Six River Odyssey panels, 1986–1988.

Michael Ramsden (born 1944) and Graham Oldroyd (born 1953)
Six River Odyssey panels, 1986–1988
Glazed ceramic castable material
Parliament House Art Collection

Michael Ramsden (born 1944) and Graham Oldroyd (born 1953) Six River Odyssey panels, 1986–1988.

Michael Ramsden (born 1944) and Graham Oldroyd (born 1953)
Six River Odyssey panels, 1986–1988
Glazed ceramic castable material
Parliament House Art Collection

Michael Ramsden (born 1944) and Graham Oldroyd (born 1953) Six River Odyssey panels, 1986–1988.

Michael Ramsden (born 1944) and Graham Oldroyd (born 1953)
Six River Odyssey panels, 1986–1988
Glazed ceramic castable material
Parliament House Art Collection

Mandy Martin (born 1952) Red ochre cove, 1987

Mandy Martin (born 1952)
Red ochre cove, 1987
Oil on canvas
Parliament House Art Collection

 

Mandy Martin was commissioned to create a painting for the Main Committee Room in Parliament House. At the time, the work was the largest of its kind and constituted a daunting project. Martin’s painting expresses a powerful vision of the Australian landscape in the midst of the formality of the Main Committee Room. Martin completed the project over two years, working closely with the architects at all stages to ensure a feasible transport and installation procedure for the immense work.

The painting is not merely a representation of a landscape, but makes references to the impact of European settlement over the past 200 years, and its effects on the land and Aboriginal people. Red Ochre Cove also intentionally makes visual reference to elements from Tom Roberts’ painting Opening of the Parliament, 1901, which hangs in the adjacent Main Committee Room Foyer.

Mandy Martin (born 1952) Red ochre cove, 1987.

Mandy Martin (born 1952)
Red ochre cove, 1987
Oil on canvas
Parliament House Art Collection

Maureen Cahill (born 1947) Suspended sculptural installation [Willy Willy] comprising 18 panels, (1986–1988).

Maureen Cahill (born 1947)
Suspended sculptural installation [Willy Willy] comprising 18 panels, (1986–1988)
Clear float glass, kiln-fired and slumped, with polyester film, stainless steel cable, metal and plastic fittings, metalwork
Parliament House Art Collection

 

Glass artist Maureen Cahill was commissioned to design the central suspended light fitting in the formal stairwell of the House of Representatives entry.  The suspended installation was fabricated with the assistance of metalsmith Helge Larsen and installed in early May 1988, prior to the formal opening of the Parliament House. In 2015, Cahill was awarded an Order of Australia (AM) for significant service to the visual arts.

Forecourt mosaic, Parliament House, Canberra (Possum and Wallaby Dreaming)
Robin Blau (born 1946) Coat of Arms (Main Entrance) Parliament House Canberra (1986–1987)
Tony Bishop (artist, born 1940) and Michael Retter (fabricator, born 1935), Marquetry Panels
Kay Lawrence (born 1947) Red Gorge two views, 1987–1988.
Michael Ramsden (born 1944) and Graham Oldroyd (born 1953) Six River Odyssey panels, 1986–1988.
Michael Ramsden (born 1944) and Graham Oldroyd (born 1953) Six River Odyssey panels, 1986–1988.
Michael Ramsden (born 1944) and Graham Oldroyd (born 1953) Six River Odyssey panels, 1986–1988.
Michael Ramsden (born 1944) and Graham Oldroyd (born 1953) Six River Odyssey panels, 1986–1988.
Michael Ramsden (born 1944) and Graham Oldroyd (born 1953) Six River Odyssey panels, 1986–1988.
Michael Ramsden (born 1944) and Graham Oldroyd (born 1953) Six River Odyssey panels, 1986–1988.
Michael Ramsden (born 1944) and Graham Oldroyd (born 1953) Six River Odyssey panels, 1986–1988.
Mandy Martin (born 1952) Red ochre cove, 1987
Mandy Martin (born 1952) Red ochre cove, 1987.
Maureen Cahill (born 1947) Suspended sculptural installation [Willy Willy] comprising 18 panels, (1986–1988).
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