Back 28 Jun '24

Larger than life ‘Sheila’ headed for Queen’s Wharf


Sheila the massive five-metre high, five-tonne goddess-like bronze sculpture is coming to Queen’s Wharf.

Brisbane artist Justene Williams’ massive bronze sculpture will be part of the public art offering at the new $3.6 billion Queen’s Wharf Brisbane.

“Sheila” will be thoughtfully positioned at the Queen’s Wharf Plaza on the river side of the existing Commissariat Store within the 7.5 hectares of public space of the burgeoning entertainment and tourism project.

“Sheila” is one of eight local, national, and international works commissioned for Queen’s Wharf Brisbane. Respected art dealer Philip Bacon leads the project’s specialist arts advisory panel which also includes curator Liz Nowell and Indigenous curator and arts administrator Avril Quaill. The panel has carefully curated the artworks that will be installed on-site by late July, to prepare for the staged opening of the precinct during August.

Several of the major works have been made at Perides Art Foundry at Geebung while the major Lindy Lee sculpture “Being Swallowed by the Milky Way” (an eight-metre, eight-tonne bronze) was made nearby at Urban Arts Projects’ Northgate foundry.

Standing beneath Sheila, Philip Bacon says he is in awe of the piece.

“It’s so much bigger and better than I ever imagined,” Bacon says.

“Sheila is earthy and primal and encapsulates the essence of female fecundity.”

Bacon praised the Consortium’s commitment to spend around $13 million on public art as “a point of difference”.

“It’s what people will remember,” he says. “It’s a big leap of faith when you commission anything. You’re never sure what will happen, but we’re very happy with the results and there has been a 100 per cent commitment from Star and everyone there has been fantastic.”

Artist Justene Williams is, by her own description, diminutive, and standing in the Perides Art Foundry beneath her creation, which was carved out of foam onsite before being cast, she is happily dwarfed by it.

“I always want to make big things, but this is the biggest,” Williams says. “It’s my first real public artwork.”

It was inspired by ancient fertility symbols and her young daughter Honore’s fascination with toy figurines.

“My daughter is interested in superheroes and loves her plastic figurines, so I took that and gave the sculpture gravitas,” she says. “This will be a giant monument to the human form with four breasts, back and front. The name Sheila riffs on the slang term for an Aussie woman but it is also the female character carved on stone mainly in Europe from the 11th century which has interpretations of protector, fertility and empathy.

“She will also feature a stainless-steel halo that is open to interpretation and self-reflection. Williams, who lectures at the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, is thrilled with how Philip Piperides (a sculptor himself) and the team at the foundry have brought her figure to life.

The foundry is also completing other works including “Destiny”, a large-scale five-metre-high aluminium sculpture of three mullet fish perched on a bull shark shaped shelter by esteemed Yolngu artist Mr. Wanambi, who passed away in 2022.

Avril Quaill says the First Nations artists represented will inspire a new generation.

“It will inspire young and emerging artists, to see public art such as this on display at such scale,” Ms. Quaill says. Philip Piperides and his team are also working on Indigenous artist Tony Albert’s 15-metre floating art garden “Inhabitant”.

There will be eight major public artworks in total including two by international artists – Britain’s Sir Antony Gormley and American contemporary creative Tom Friedman.

Antony Gormley’s “Fold II” is a thought-provoking iron and steel sculpture that will be positioned at the base of the Brisbane Steps leading to the Bicentennial bikeway.

A larger-than-life three-metre-high aluminium man created by Tom Friedman, called “Looking Up”, which was previously on display in New York’s Rockefeller Center, will be showcased at the grassed riverfront space, The Landing.

This article is a slight variation on the original by Phil Brown that appeared in Inreview