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An icon of compassion and courase
By SONIA BARRON
PETER CORLETT, Simpson And His Donkey, bronze sculp ture, Australian War Memorial.
UNVEILED on Anzac Day,
Peter Corlett's bronze sculpture of Simpson and his Donkey stands to the left of the main entrance to the Austra lian War Memorial. Already proving most popular with the public the artist's concept of a na tional icon of compassion, cour age and humanity has been most successfully accomplished.
Corlett had earlier executed two very fine exhibition models, cast in fibre-glass, for the Memori al, which have startled many a visitor. One is of a seated RAAF pilot in the Korean Gallery, and the other is of a World War I digger, crouched in the mud of the
The realism of his bronze is disarming. The scale, one and a quarter times life size, means that the group is not intimidating, yet large enough to hold its own and not get lost in its surroundings.
Simpson and his Donkey.
Standing on a low plinth, it is a very physical encounter. You will want to pat the donkey's nose. The face of Simpson turned aside looks down. It is the face of a real man, nothing heroic or romantic in his gaze. There are other inter pretations of the subject which make interesting comparisons. The earlier bronze by Leslie
Bowles and Horace Moore-Jones'
water-colour are on display within the museum. Corlett has retained the conventional arrangement of the two men and donkey in a tight configuration.
The attention which he has giv en to detail and composition is thoroughly modern in the idiom of contemporary realist sculpture. One can draw parallels with American sculptors George Segal and Frank Gallo, and John Da vies in England. Corlett's life-size portrait figures in fibre-glass, shown at the Second Australian Sculpture Triennial in 1984, were a startling confrontation with na kedness. Conceptually not unlike the paintings of the Englishman Lucien Freud.
In Simpson and his Donkey Corlett has found a subject of "larger symbolic power", to quote one critic of his earlier work. He has not compromised himself to satisfy a commission, rather he has responded to the human con dition of war with a high degree of personal empathy. His own father
served as a stretcher bearer in France.
If history made Simpson a na tional hero, Corlett's sculpture re minds us that compassion can be the most heroic of virtues.