Tom Bass


Tom Bass Media Summary

Throughout his career Tom Bass’ full and complex life has been well profiled in the media.  He gained not only a public reputation as the “Great Old Man of Sculpture” and “Sydney’s Bearded Sculptor”, but a relationship that allowed him to communicate with the public about his work through personally writing to the press numerous letters that were subsequently published.


The 1940’s centre on Tom Bass’ life-story as a soldier-serviceman turned artist.  His work expresses a more personal message of post-war life.  Articles appear in daily newspapers and women’s magazines including The Australian Woman’s Weekly, highlighting the immense interest in the post-war years of returned soldiers to civilian life.


Bass’ early media exposure is primarily concerned with his association with the Society of Sculptors, an organisation of which he was an early member.  The Society gains a public profile for sculpture in Australia that contributes to Bass’ growing reputation and that of a number of other sculptors.

The Student (1953) at the University of Sydney, The Trial of Socrates(1954-56) at the University of Melbourne and The Falconer (1953-55) at the University of New South Wales, receive enthusiastic reports in the print media, representing the first major, publicly recognisable works undertaken by Bass.  His entry into the prestigious ‘Unknown Political Prisoner International Sculpture Competition’ (1952) (in London?) receives high praise.  Research (1956-59) generates growing interest in Australian art both domestically and abroad.

Media fascination in his major works adds to Bass’ emergence as a public figure.  The Herald Sculpture (1956-59) gains widespread recognition while the demand for religious (1955-59 works at Yass) and educational commissions enables him to develop his trademark sculptural totemic style.  Every sculpture starts to reveal a specific message within the design, composition and location of the work.


Largely regarded as the pinnacle of Bass’ career, these next ten years produce numerous high profile commissions including the P&O Wall Fountain (1962-63), the Lintel Sculpture (1967-68) for the National Library of Australia and Ethos (1959-61) for Canberra’s Civic Square.

Admitting he has found God, Bass inter-disperses his civic and educational commissions with religious works.  Some of his most powerful works will include Our Lady Archetype of the Church (1959-62) at Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Hobart and the Crucifix (1965-66) for the Chapel at the Royal Military College, Duntroon.

Though a politically moderate era, contemporary Australian society is emerging from its conservatism with the growth of liberalism and revolutionary radical notions associated with the development of youth culture.  Bass’ further development of totemic sculpture will represent these social ideals, as his work becomes a symbol of these changes.

Ethos (1959-61) is eagerly followed in the print media and enables Bass to express to the public his totemic message of Canberra and the notion of a national capital.  The Lintel Sculpture (1967-68) created a media storm, which followed the work from Bass’ Minto studio, through the bush and into its place of honour on the front entrance of the National Library of Australia.

However by 1965, a critical review of the state of Australian sculpture features in the Herald and causes Bass to launch a defamation case against John Fairfax & Sons.  Although settling out of court, the Heralddoes not issue Bass an apology.  Ironically, Bass then travels to Washington DC, USA to install Sculptured Emblem (1968-69) on the Australian Chancery Building, where he receives coverage in the American press and is declared an internationally recognisable Australian artist.

By 1969, Bass leaves the Church and there are no more religious commissions for the next fifteen years.


The 1970s witnesses major life changes in Bass.  The main focus of his work during this period is of a more personal nature.  With all the emotion of an inspired artist, the press portrays Bass in greater depth as a man, husband and father. He produces three major commissions over the decade, including the first of two Western Australian commissions commencing with Entrance Sculpture (1971) for the Institute of Technology (renamed Curtain University).

As a career made up of numerous major commissions draws to a natural end, Bass’ work is no longer the focal point of media interest.  However, the status and reputation he has gained over the two previous decades aids in the establishment of the Tom Bass Sculpture School in Sydney in 1974.  An independent art school designed to foster sculpture within the art community, it also promotes Bass as a mentor to the next generation of Australia sculptors.


By 1980, Bass starts the decade with his first solo exhibition at The David Jones Gallery in Sydney.  The show’s reviews are mixed, and its overall lack of success reaffirms Bass’ opinion that the art gallery system is not a way for sculpture to be shown to the public.

During this period, family and children re-emerge in his work. The Artsand The Sciences (1984)commission for the Great Hall at the University of Sydney and the Prince of Wales Children’s Hospital (NSW) commission of Christopher Robin (1989) draws Bass back into major sculpture projects.

Media fascination with the man in addition to the artist stimulate publications like The Bulletin to hail the return of Bass and his revitalised sculptural contribution.

After a long absence, Bass undergoes an epiphany of his religious commissions, combining early Christian Symbolism and abstract totemic character.  Although he will never return to the Church, this re-emergence of a spiritual dimension ends his personal conflict with Catholic associations, and he returns to educational and religious commissions which continue to the present time.


Producing few public works in the 1990s, Bass continues to be active in his leadership of the Tom Bass Sculpture Studio School and participation in selective group sculpture exhibitions in Sydney toward the end of the decade.  As a result, public recognition increases for Bass’ past achievements.  Often celebrated for his artistic vision, journalists attempt to express the virtue of his unique sculptural gift.

Property development at the site of the Studio School at Broadway places it at a risk of closure.  Although unsuccessful, the lobbying and eventual relocation of the Studio School from Broadway to Erskineville provides the public with an insight into Bass’ active life as a teacher and mentor.  The public interest in the relocation results in the retention and continuation of the Studio School.


Bass’ return as a public sculptor is aided by the production of fresh religious and civic works.  Among his most well received works are St Augustine (2004), a relief that captures the very heart of his religious beliefs of Christian symbolism through its Byzantine references.

His most important work over the decade would become Elizabeth(2006), a bronze sculpture of Mrs Elizabeth Campbell Macquarie, completed in 2002.  The work undergoes a public debate and dedicated fundraising before its eventual unveiling in Mawson Park in Campbelltown, August 2006.

Bass remains in the public eye as he continues to campaign for public support for the preservation, restoration and conservation of heritage and art sites.  This develops out of a personal crusade to save his civic works from destruction, which includes the successful removal, preservation and relocation of Research (1962-63) and the AGC Sculpture (1962-63) to their original sites.

Bass is continually referenced in regard to his dominant role in the development of modern Australian sculpture in the twentieth century.  The public are now equally interested in the messages behind the works and his reasons for totemic sculpture.  Media coverage of Bass witnesses public admiration over his active senior life, portrayed as a fountain of wisdom where he is seen as a positive influence to younger generations through his teaching and works.