High diver, 1991
oil and wax, rake, timber and canvas
137 x 55 x 30 cm
‘It’s very important to never lose that sense of play … Testing yourself - what if I do this? … Play is an important outlet and component of art … And [for me] sculpture takes on that role …’
High diver, 1991, was one of scores of painted timber sculptures that Terry Batt produced in his early years teaching at RMIT University. Batt had recently been selected by Professor Grant Hannan, Head of the Department of Fine Art, to extend the university’s teaching program into Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Hong Kong. Subsequently Batt’s works became infused with the forms and aesthetics of cultures that he formed a personal attachment to.
Some of Batt’s earliest sculptures and collages consisted of found objects that were combined and assembled to make unique, new works. Partly inspired by Surrealist bricolage and the philosophy of chance accident, discovery and association (also evident in the work of artists at the time such as RMIT’s Peter Ellis), Batt invested a rich vein of his own personal history in the works. Invariably these pieces form a response to specific incidents or associations and the many places he travelled to or taught.
High diver consists of a common garden rake. The handle has been cut off by Batt’s two mischievous sons, Micah and Lincoln. Turned upside down, the rake head carries the connotations of New Guinea highlander headdresses that Batt would have encountered in his trips to Goroke or even dance masks from the Torres Straits.
The crowning glory sits proudly on a symmetrical armature that resembles a body. There’s a painted background of signature patterns echoing body art, shields and coloured bands on bird’s legs. The element of a blue painted figure diving from the vertical tower adds a further level of incongruity to this beguilingly simple but visually arresting subject.