A New National Small Sculpture Award Draws Entries From Emerging to Established Artists

Colour Figure 1, 2020 by Kerrie Poliness. Image supplied.

The prize is supported by the Elisabeth Murdoch Sculpture Fund and a private donor with entries judged by artists and McClelland Trustees Lisa Roet and John Young AM, and Jason Smith, Director of Geelong Gallery. 

Artists James GeurtsMatt HinkleyKerrie Poliness and Cyrus Tang each receive a $3,000 cash prize.

Gallery Director, Lisa Byrne, said the initiative was developed to support artists who pursue the sculptural discipline at a time when artists most need new opportunities. The Award encourages artists to consider sculptural concepts suitable for domestic scale as opposed to sculpture suitable for a major public environment.

The small sculptures are no more than 50cm at their largest dimension and each of the 44 finalists’ works are for sale with all proceeds going to the artists. Each of the four winning artworks represent a diverse approach to sculpture.

The Modern World Encyclopedia Vol 2, 2017 by Cyrus Tang. Image supplied.

Untitled, 2014 by Matt Hinkley. Image supplied.

Time Zero: International Dateline, 2020 by James Geurtz. Image supplied.


Four finalists in the McClelland National Small Sculpture Awards talk about their work.


The Hearts of Absent Women 2020, by Ema Shin. Image supplied.

EMA SHIN is a mid-career Melbourne-based artist who studied print making in Japan where she was born.

Early in her career while still living in Japan, she was awarded a place in an artist residency program which took her to Mexico, Spain and Kenya. Through experiencing the culture of these communities and working alongside local artists, Shin discovered that their spiritual belief and faith in the protective powers that small amulets bestow on their holder was something that they shared in common with Japanese culture.

Without a separate studio and with two small children at home, Shin’s work now has a greater focus on textile art as these works are less demanding of space and continuity of time than printmaking. Shin’s textiles draw on her international experiences, love of nature and study of anatomical illustration books.

“We have beautiful shapes in our bodies that are like flowers and plant life,” she says. She chooses to use shades of pink and red as these hues reflect colours found inside the body.

Her heart sculptures are emotive and have added spiritual meaning as amulets for protection in response to the current pandemic.

The Hearts of Absent Women, is inspired by what she learned about amulets during those early travels, her fascination with the human body, and her personal history where her female ancestors were not recorded in a book that traces the family tree over many generations.

“When I was little, I looked many times and found no women’s names. It was a big event on my life. My mother and grandmother worked very hard behind the scenes and they’re not recognised well enough in the history and I thought that was unfair,” she says of the book that was passed down through her grandfather and father to her brother.

Having been exposed to the Australian way of life for some time now, Shin, who is of Korean descent, feels the gender bias of her past more acutely.

“I want to dedicate my work to those women who have not been recognised and I want to celebrate them and their gender. That’s the other message of the hearts.”

Shin was excited to learn that her textile sculpture is a finalist in the McClelland National Small Sculpture Award alongside more traditional forms of sculpture.

“It will be interesting to see how this work is accepted by a wider audience and I look forward to that reaction.”


Fingerpointing Series 2019, by Freya Jobbins. Image supplied.

FREYA JOBBINS is an early-career multidisciplinary artist who lives a rural life on a 30-acre property near Sydney. She completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts as a mature-aged student in 2018 and has been practicing for over 10 years.

Jobbins is keen to keep her art practice as sustainable as possible. She uses found items in her work and sources old dolls from charity shops and disassembles them into body parts which she diligently files into little drawers sorted by component. From these thousands of pieces, she carefully selects hands, feet, ears, legs and other parts and systematically arranges them with balance and symmetry. This process satisfies her obsessive nature, but she’s not averse to leaving a little bit of something that’s imperfect.

As an ex-policewoman and weapons instructor, the Florida High School shooting in 2018 affected her deeply. Her Fingerpointing Series is, in part, a response to that event and other mass shootings in the United States of America and was three years in the making. The large piece in this artwork is an AR-15 gun which was used in that shooting.

“All the fingers point towards the trigger so it’s an effective piece because in a sense it wasn’t just the 17-year-old who pulled that trigger.

“These mass shootings in America always result in a lot of finger-pointing but there’s never an acceptance of blame,” she says.

The artwork includes a 9mm handgun which is the second most used gun in school shootings in the USA, and a revolver which features a gold painted trigger to draw the eye of the viewer.

Jobbins’ work prompts a visceral response from the viewer and is imbued with layers of personal meaning. She can work for only one hour at a time because of the laborious and careful cutting and disassembling process and then the technical aspect of assembling the artwork, piece by small piece. Despite this time-consuming labour, her high output of work has garnered local and international attention.

Being a finalist in the McClelland National Small Sculpture Award has afforded Jobbins a wider audience in a year in which the pandemic has limited opportunities for physical exhibitions and potential sales as a result of those exhibitions. Despite this set-back, Jobbins was invited to submit an artwork in the MASK exhibition at Vicki Myhren Gallery at the University of Denver in Colorado, USA.


Silver tongue, red veil 2020, by Narelle White. Image supplied.

NARELLE WHITE is an emerging artist based in Melbourne. She returned to university as a mature-aged student to study fine arts and is thrilled to be a finalist in the McClelland National Small Sculpture Award.

She explains that Silver tongue, red veil was intended for another exhibition which was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and prior to the announcement of this award, her sculpture was destined to languish in a cupboard for 12 months.

“There can be a tendency for ceramic works to be set apart so it was lovely to have my work in an award that is dedicated to sculpture and not to ceramics, and that there is a diverse collection of works amongst the finalists,” she said.

“As an emerging artist it is a wonderful opportunity for my work to be seen. I value it immensely.”

White’s forms are inspired by the Venus of Willendorf, one of the earliest sculptures of a small female figure, and her experiences of the Angkor Wat sites and carved feminine figures found in the temples of Cambodia.

“I’m interested in the material exploration so it’s through embedding the organic aggregates into clay that I then have a material that demands compression and then it’s from negotiating that, that the form rises,” she says.

During her three-month 2019-2020 residency at the European Ceramic Workcentre in the Netherlands, White says her primary goal was to engage with the conundrum of how to make her compressed forms larger.

Through investigating various techniques including 3D scanning and making larger press moulds, in the end the process taught her the value of smaller pieces and that it was those works that were most successful.

White hopes that next year she can return to postgraduate study with a different mindset following this forced slowdown. Without access to a studio space, she has had to rethink her practice and regroup by doing photo documentation, writing about her work and generally doing things related to her art practice that she wouldn’t otherwise have had time to focus on. She has a solo show at the Bundoora Homestead Arts Centre in 2021.


Counterbalance no. 26 2020, by Odettte Ireland. Picture supplied.

ODETTE IRELAND is an emerging artist based in Sydney. Her work, Counterbalance no. 26, is a distillation of the ideas she developed while studying a Diploma and Advanced Diploma in Ceramics which she completed in 2018.

This small mixed media sculpture is part of a growing body of work which stems from a series of 13 two-metre-tall “tree totems” that formed the capstone of her studies.

Ireland has reinterpreted the elements that made up those larger works into smaller sculptures that are more accessible in scale. Her suspended mobiles, wall hangings and free-standing sculptures comprise three forms that relate to the ceramic forms of a bowl, plate and cylinder or vase.

“The tree element is the vase, the plate is the leaf disc and the bowl is the pod. I repeat the use of those three elements in different ways and I’m not done with it yet,” she explains.

“I find the whole balance of the work really stimulating because it has to work visually and physically as an artistic composition. If it’s out of balance, it’s out of balance. And I enjoy that challenge to get it right.”

On learning that she was a finalist in the McClelland National Small Sculpture Award, Ireland says that as an emerging artist she was “absolutely blown away.”

“I can’t tell you how proud I am to be among such an esteemed group of artists,” she said. “I love the diversity among the finalists.”

She was especially pleased that this new award has provided a platform for her fellow emerging artists to find a new audience.

Ireland is represented by Curatorial + Co which recently established a bricks and mortar presence in Redfern, Sydney, after cementing itself as an online gallery several years ago.


The 44 finalists of the McClelland Sculpture Park+Gallery Small Sculpture Award 2020 are:

Fiona Abicare, Daniel Agdag, Claire Bridge, Robert Bridgewater, Eugene Carchesio, Aaron Carter, Kris Coad, Ewen Coates, Narinda Cook, Augustine Dall’Ava, Emma Davies, Michael Doolan, Brodie Ellis, Danny Fotopoulos, James Geurts, Matt Hinkley, Odette Ireland, Freya Jobbins, Yvonne Kendall, Madeline Kidd, Alicia King, Michael Le Grand, Lucas Maddock, John Meade, Sanné Mestrom, Clare Milledge, Clive Murray-White, Nell, Louise Paramor, Sassy Park, Mary Lou Pavlovic,  Kenny Pittock, Kerrie Poliness, Steven Rendall, Juan David Rodriguez Sandoval, Paul Selwood, Ema Shin, Matthew Sleeth, Vipoo Srivilasa, Kylie Stillman, Cyrus Tang, Ronnie van Hout, Jan van Schaik, and Narelle White.

Each of the finalists’ works are for sale and can be viewed via a digital catalogue on the McClelland Sculpture Park+Gallery website.

McClelland Small Sculpture Award


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