The James Gleeson oral history collection
James Gleeson interviews Australia's major artists
Forms in majesty [Majestic Forms] 1964
Sculpture, carved Tasmanian oak
overall 172.0 h x 56.8 w x 38.8 d cm
27 November 1979 [unknown location]
James Gleeson: You mentioned a little earlier about this one, which is the earliest one of yours we’ve got, Forms in majesty in Tasmanian oak of 1967. Now you mentioned that that was originally three different forms that had an accident.
Clifford Last: Yes.
James Gleeson: Tell us about that.
Clifford Last: Well, just before I get on to that, that was a period when all my work seemed to be in family groups and lovers. All my work is related to where I am in my thinking process. You know, a long thing to go through this, but that was a time when I was dissatisfied with my relationships with other people. I was realising that I was sort of a one person here without any family sort of links at all. I’d left them all in Europe. I seemed to be living out of these problems in terms of lovers and family groups. Although I was working in organic forms to interpret this, it was sort of over-romantic. I was portraying these family groups and lovers as I would have liked to have seen them, not as they were.
James Gleeson: I see.
Clifford Last: So they were very romantic.
James Gleeson: Yes.
Clifford Last: But going back to the three. You have two figures, Forms in majesty and they look rather regal. But there was a child carved in, and that was I think in the Mildura catalogues, because that was where it was carved for. I think it was one of the first Mildura sculpture exhibitions. Then it came back to Melbourne, this piece, and went on an exhibition, a big exhibition of sculpture around Australia. The last place of the showing was in Melbourne, from Tasmania. It came off the ship from Tasmania, piled onto a lorry. Julius Kane, the sculptor’s work and mine were on the top. They’d piled far too many and then he went under a low bridge. Julius’ and my work were just smashed. I had to cancel the exhibition for two of my pieces, my main pieces for this exhibition. So I just had to cancel the exhibition. But there was rather a—if you want to hear the story.
James Gleeson: Yes, yes, I think it’s important.
Clifford Last: Don’t tell it to the insurance people. But the insurance people saw it and saw it was smashed up and they gave me the full insurance value. I said, ‘Could I have the pieces? I might be able to carve something from them’. They said, ‘Yes, have the pieces’. About a year later, I hadn’t much work on, there was nothing much in my mind to work on, and I looked at them and I thought, ‘Well, if I cut up the baby I can repair mum and dad’. So that was how that other piece came in and I must say it was re-carved much more fiercely.
James Gleeson: Yes.
Clifford Last: The forms were defined more and sort of almost holes put through where there weren’t holes before. It was a much more successful, as I think, piece of carving. Now, that is a point. That some painters and sculptors will never touch a piece of work when it’s finished. Frequently I do. If a piece comes back and it’s in the studio for a long time—although when it was finished it was the sum total of my solving of that project—a year later, whether I’ve grown or whether I can see more clearly and I realise that something needs doing more, and I will carve. I generally mark on in records re-carved later to so and so.