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Lionel Bawden

Brain coral


Lionel Bawden Brain coral 2003

Brain coral 2003 coloured Staedtler pencils, araldite, Incralac National Gallery of Australia enlarge

Artist’s statement
Brain coral focuses on the incredible complexity of the human brain and the idea that technology is driven by the human sense of enquiry. The form of the sculpture was inspired by a particular kind of coral structure, commonly referred to as brain coral. In our technologically advanced age, focusing on the pencil as a form of technology might seem rather backward. But the notion of the pencil and its purpose – to communicate, to work out solutions, and to create – are essential to the general drive of technology. Most of the magic of technology is in our thinking. The poetry of technology is in our minds before it is in the world. We just have to keep coming up with new ways to extend these thoughts into the physical world and keep evolving our environment.’

How was Brain coral made?
Brain coral is sculpted using hundreds of coloured pencils. After picturing the idea in my head and making sketches, I began the sculpture by selecting the coloured pencils that I wanted to use and cutting them to the desired length. Then I glued the hexagonal pencils together, one pencil at a time, forming a block with a honeycomb structure. I wanted colour to move across the work, a subtle suggestion of the changing colours of a chameleon, suggesting adaptability. So I carefully placed each different coloured pencil, gradually changing from red, through orange, to yellow amongst the pink pencils. Next, I sanded and shaped the block using a dremel rotary tool with sanding and carving attachments. The most rewarding stage is sanding the form by hand with four grades of sandpaper, determining the final shape and smoothing the form. This is usually the slowest, but most enjoyable stage of the process. Lastly I coated the work with Incralac (a lacquer) to give the work a moist, fleshy look and help to protect the surface of the form.

  • Look at the colours pencils the artist has used. What difference do you think it would have made to our impression of Brain coral if he had used other colours?
  • Many things are made by combining lots of small, similar units together to make a large, different forms and structures. What other objects also use this method of construction? Make an object by using a technique of combining small similar-shaped units.