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"Thus Spake Zarathustra" - What the sculpture means to me

 

The idea [gesture of the open hand and the clenched fist] for the monumental bronze male nude figure that I created and originally called "Zarathustra" and now "Thus Spake Zarathustra", came to me in a dream, upon awaking I pounced upon the already fading vision and sketched it in my journal.

This dream was followed by a serendipitous event, Michael a friend who I had originally met in Rome wandering around the Foro Romano and eating in cheap trattoria's called to say he was coming to Melbourne from Sydney, and wanted to pay a visit. I was modeling a portrait of our first child, our son Art who was 4 months old at the time,[1983] sure I said but you will have to model for a sculpture! [Michael had exactly the physique I imagined for my sculpture, Bondi surfie, muscles shaped by waves of the sea] So in the space of several weeks I made in clay a 1 meter tall version of this sculpture now in discussion. From the outset I always wanted to make this sculpture "big". At the time I remember thinking I was very satisfied with the gesture of the hands and the overall posture of the body but the character of the head I felt was not resolved, nonetheless I cast an edition of the work in bronze which sold out. I realize now it was not that I could not model a head, it was more to do with who he was.

From the outset as I said I wanted to make a monumental version of this work, well I had to wait twenty years [2003] for the opportunity to recreate him at monumental proportions! And this opportunity was given me by the very gracious Dame Elisabeth Murdoch AC DBE who is the Patron of the McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park. Dame Elisabeth visited me at my studio as I had invited Dame Elisabeth to view a Mother and Child sculpture that I had carved in Carrara Marble. After tea and scones, and what seemed to me out of the blue Dame Elisabeth turned to the small bronze version in a corner of my studio and asked if it would be possible to make a large version of this work for the island down at the McClelland Gallery as the Balzac by Rodin that was on loan had been returned and the Gallery wanted something to replace it. At the time I had used different titles for this work.

I returned to the what for me was the unresolved aspect of this sculpture his head. I thought initially of the sculpture of Ancient Greece [who as an aside portrayed their Gods nude], I began thinking I will give him a noble Greek head, a beard and curly hair. I imagined a warrior/philosopher; the Prometheus myth at one stage seemed to fit. I love the bronzes of Riace, bit by bit the "character" began to form in my mind. Yet to me this figure expresses and essential dualism, a push and pull, an inner struggle. He is modern [in an existentialist sense] but ancient, good I thought that it what I want him to be a timeless figure. But I still did not have a name for him. And he did not seem fully Greek to me anyway. At some point I thought of "Thus Spake Zarathustra" by Friedrich Nietzsche, I started to reread this book. The book begins "WHEN Zarathustra was thirty years old, he left his home and the lake of his home, and went into the mountains".

I decided to call my sculpture "Zarathustra", and as far as the commissioner was concerned I was making a sculpture with a strange sounding name derived from a book by a mad German philosopher that no one really understood in anycase. Reading this book it is clear that Nietzsche sees himself as a transgressor; a truthsayer and prophet for his times. Nietzsche identifies with the Persian Zarathustra singles him out from all other thinkers as the most truthful. However the sheer poetry of this beautiful sounding name totally obsessed me, in my heart a mystique was enveloping the sculpture I was to make. As my understanding grew of this book, I began to get more and more interested in whom Zarathustra was and then began to research who he was.

Tthe concept of dualism, of the eternal struggle between the forces of light and dark between good and evil, "He was wise enough to recognize that all the motives of human beings are based on action and reaction" I thought that is it I have found the spiritual significance of the clenched fist and the open hand gesture that I had dreamed all those years ago, it meshed entirely in my mind with what I was trying to express. The more I researched the more excited I became, to learn of an individual who lived so long ago whose teachings have been woven so tightly into subsequent spiritual traditions including my own [I was raised a as Christian] and yet whose presence has faded from contemporary knowledge, in general I have found most people [in the west] know next to nothing of who Zarathustra was, let alone the history of their own traditions. I am often saying to people now, "You know the three Magi in the Bible you realize they were Zoroastrian Priests"

From this research I began to fathom that Nietzsche had a far more complex relationship to the real Zarathustra, it was not just that he chose on a whimsy the name of an obscure Persian, who lived in ancient times, and whose name sounded suitably exotic. It took me a year and a half to model the clay sculpture, time to think about many things. But it was a slow process, much of my thoughts and study was about trying to make a good representation of the human figure on a scale I had never attempted before! Nonetheless as this large figure grew I saw him more and more as embodying the "Prophetic Voice" Sometimes I imagined him as the young "Zarathustra" from an ancient land, standing before time and before all of creation, powerful yet vulnerable, in this beautiful mystery that we experience as life.

I wonder why I did not consult with Zoroastrians beforehand, perhaps because I didn't know any [well at least that’s changed] now after hundreds of emails and countless telephone conversations I have learnt from my communication with many Zoroastrian people it is very obvious that there is a great debate burning within the Zoroastrian Community itself, and there is a tremendous divergence of opinion regarding the interpretation of the teachings of Zarathustra, this is not only a matter for the Zoroastrian Community it is a matter for the whole world! I came to this as an Artist from the western world [and precarious as it is at the moment] the idea of freedom of expression has proved itself as essential to the advancement of the human animal. My sculpture was made with a certain identity it cannot be erased.

I say this because as well as receiving hundreds of emails from people who were enraged by my sculpture I also received hundreds of emails from Zoroastrians who were really intrigued, interested and supportive that someone from Australia would even think to make a sculpture with a Zarathustrian connection. Western culture celebrates the Ancient Greeks and their achievements, but who was living right next door across the Bosporus? I started with Nietzsche, and his meditation on the spiritual odyssey of the west whose beginnings can be traced back through time to Zarathustra. Calling my sculpture "Zarathustra" telescopes you to the historical origins of that timeless inner searching. My sculptures feet and legs are rooted in the earth, [however the right foot is slightly raised] yet the head is upturned indicating a yearning to join with a metaphysical dimension - the profound desire to comprehend existence. My figure could only be nude, the body is the "spirit" clothed by flesh, creation conscious of itself, the moment between being and becoming. Call me crazy but in my mind he is the greater potential, the "Zarathustra" in all of us!

 

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