Mark Stiles

A neglected aspect of our built environment is our extensive heritage of industrial architecture. The buildings and settings are often all that remain of vanished industries that once were important places of work.

The venue for our exhibition is itself one such building, designed for Willoughby Council by Walter Burley Griffin and Eric Nicholls and built by the Reverbatory Incinerator and Engineering Company in 1934.

The work in the exhibition is inspired by some of the many other structures and environments that form a physical history of our working past.

Jeff Rigby has been painting our industrial heritage for over thirty years, and his work here references the structures of maritime Sydney, from the docks of Darling Harbour to the finger wharves of Walsh Bay. 

Mark Stiles has made drawings of Cockatoo Island, its discarded machinery the mute traces of a formerly busy shipyard, and Anthea FitzGerald has made prints that reflect the remnants of the old working harbour that can still be seen around our foreshores. 

Adrian Boddy’s photographs of the steelworks at Port Kembla are a forceful reminder of the power of heavy industry in its prime, while Ro Cook’s textiles draw on the sites of family history in woolsheds and nursing institutions.

But work does not stop, and Helen Wyatt’s jewellery pieces represent industrial landscapes in transition. Stefan Lie’s pieces point towards the future of manufacturing, in which digital technologies and new materials help drive the unstoppable force of industrial innovation and economic change.

THE BAUHAUS 1919-2019

Sydney’s heritage of industrial architecture is one of the things we celebrate in this exhibition. The other is the centenary of the Bauhaus, the incubator of the Modern Movement and the most famous art and design school of the twentieth century.

Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus, firmly believed that industrial buildings were worthy of being called architecture. He also thought they were the source of ideas – about materials and processes, but also aesthetically – that could be used to make a genuinely modern architecture that broke with the past. 

A second thing about which Gropius had a lot to say was the fundamental unity of the arts, an idea that underpinned the curriculum of the Bauhaus when Gropius established it at Weimar in April 1919.

That is one reason why the artists presenting their work here come from different disciplines, all of which were taught in the Bauhaus workshops – Adrian Boddy (photography), Ro Cook (textiles), Anthea Fitzgerald (printmaking), Stefan Lie (three dimensional design), Jeff Rigby (painting), Mark Stiles (drawing) and Helen Wyatt (jewellery). 

By doing so we acknowledge Walter Gropius’s challenge, first laid down a century ago, to reimagine the material world as the unity of art and design, and therefore something truly modern and new. We are still debating how far we have come since then, but we honour Gropius’s vision today.

Mark Stiles

April 2019

The curator and exhibitors gratefully acknowledge the support of the Willoughby City Council in the provision of the Incinerator Art Space. Jeff Rigby appears courtesy of Robin Gibson Gallery.

There will be a talk by Jeff Rigby and Mark Stiles on Sunday 28 April at 2pm.