Tom Bass (sculptor)

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Tom Bass
Born (1916-06-06)6 June 1916[1]
Lithgow, New South Wales
Died 26 February 2010(2010-02-26) (aged 93)[1]
Nationality AustraliaAustralian
Education Dattilo Rubbo Art School, National Art School
Known for Sculpture
Awards AM (Member in the Order of Australia)

Thomas Dwyer Bass AM (6 June 1916 – 26 February 2010) was a renowned Australian sculptor.[1][2] Born in Lithgow, New South Wales on 6 June 1916, he studied at the Dattilo Rubbo Art School and the National Art School and established the Tom Bass Sculpture School in Sydney in 1974.[3] In 1988, he was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for services to sculpture. In 2009, he was admitted to the degree of Doctor of Visual Arts (honoris causa) at the University of Sydney.

A retrospective of his work, spanning 60 years, was exhibited at the Sydney Opera House between 9 November and 17 December 2006.[4]

Totem maker[edit]

After graduating from the National Art School, Tom Bass developed his philosophy of working as a sculptor as being the maker of totemic forms and emblems, that is, work expressing ideas of particular significance to communities or to society at large. Examples of his work include The Trial of Socrates and The Idea of a University at Wilson Hall, Melbourne University; The falconer on Main Building at UNSW, representing the conflict between beauty and the intellect; The winged figure of Ethos in Civic Square, Canberra, representing the spirit of the community and the Lintel Sculpture at the National Library, Canberra, representing the idea of Library. Over a twenty-five-year period this remained virtually the single focus of his work as he became the most sought after public sculptor in Australia. He is represented all over Australia and also overseas.

Contribution to art in Australia[edit]

Whilst engaged with his public sculptures Tom Bass remained largely on the periphery of the evolving art scene in post world war II Australia. His contribution to art often went unacknowledged as the focus for artists evolved around the ever growing gallery and art market scene. Art as commodity was never Bass's reason for making sculpture. During the 50's and 60's Bass "..was the only Australian sculptor who understood the importance of bringing art to the widest possible audience. ...With every major commission Bass aimed to push the boundaries of public taste, giving his audience a lesson in the visual language of modernism." [5]

P & O Wall Fountain[edit]

Bass's P & O Wall Fountain caused considerable controversy when it was completed in 1963. The sixth edition of Oz magazine (1964) published a renowned satirical photograph which showed the fountain apparently being used as a urinal, with a caption which read "Pictured is a trio of Sydney natives P. & O.'ing in the Bass urinal."[6] For this and other supposed offences the editors of the magazine, Richard Neville, Richard Walsh and Martin Sharp were charged, tried and sentenced to jail with hard labour for "obscenity and encouraging public urination".,[7] although the defendants subsequently appealed against the sentences, which were revoked.

Tom Bass Sculpture Studio School[edit]

After an intense career as a public sculptor Tom Bass felt that sculpture as a medium of social communication was losing its relevance. He went through a period of life review and went back to teach at the National Art School. He soon decided that that it was not possible for him to teach in the way he wanted under that system. So he conceived the idea of setting up an independent school of sculpture. He began a long search to find an appropriate place for the school. This culminated in the warehouse above Broadway, a wonderful space which had been occupied by goldsmiths ever since its completion in 1911. He spent a year cleaning the space and preparing it for classes and in 1974 classes began in the Studio.

The School moved from Broadway to Erskineville in 1998, where it continues to run sculpture classes today.

Selected works[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Bass, Dr Thomas Dwyer (Tom) AM.". Notices (The Sydney Morning Herald). 1 March 2010. 
  2. ^ "Top Sculptor dies aged 94". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 26 February 2010. Retrieved 1 March 2010. 
  3. ^ "Biographical Notes". Tom Bass Sculpture Studio School. Archived from the original on 2007-11-14. Retrieved 2008-03-28. 
  4. ^ "Tom Bass Retrospective". Sydney Morning Herald. 21 November 2006. Retrieved 2008-03-28. 
  5. ^ Sandy roadshow heads west. John McDonald.SMH Spectrum. 13–14 March 2010 p14-15
  6. ^ Stephen, A. (ed.), Modern Times: The untold story of Modernism in Australia, 2008, The Miegunyah Press
  7. ^, accessed 17 March 2009
  8. ^ "Major Works". Tom Bass Sculpture Studio School. Archived from the original on 2007-11-15. Retrieved 2008-03-28. 

External links[edit]