We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.





Bronwyn Oliver


22 Feb 1959 – 11 Jul 2006

Alternate image of Unicorn by Bronwyn Oliver
Alternate image of Unicorn by Bronwyn Oliver
Alternate image of Unicorn by Bronwyn Oliver
Alternate image of Unicorn by Bronwyn Oliver
  • Details

    Media category
    Materials used
    paper, tissue, wire, hair, cane
    70.0 x 70.0 x 270.0 cm
    Signature & date

    Not signed. Not dated.

    Gift of the artist under the terms of the New South Wales Travelling Art Scholarship 1986
    Not on display
    Accession number
    © Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    Bronwyn Oliver

    Works in the collection


  • About

    Bronwyn Oliver's sculpture is of organic forms which twist and turn to convey a quiet energy. The delicate friction between surface and depth breathes life into her objects: dense surfaces with translucent and vital interiors of air and light. Her objects are often sphere-like with hollow spaces or openings – openings which lead to somewhere else, devolving from where they started. In the exchange between these aspects, Oliver’s sculpture suggests a passage from one place to another, a journey from a material dimension into an imaginative, other world.

    Oliver used a variety of materials, including paper, resin, tissue, fibreglass, hair, copper and aluminum. The ethereal impression and supple curves of her objects belie the inherent qualities of their materials and the intensive process of their production. As a result copper appears lithe, its resiliency creatively subverted. In earlier works Oliver transformed paper. ‘Unicorn’, for example, is made from paper, tissue, wire, hair and cane. It is a bulbous floor piece of three dimensions, with tiny threads of dark hair appearing around the peak of each white marbled globe. Paradoxically, the curvaceous, almost corporeal structure hints at a tangible blooming vitality despite its solid exterior. In contrast to the opaque skin of ‘Unicorn’, ‘Egg carrying object’ 1987 (AGNSW collection) reveals a translucent chest-like cavity with cross-hatched ribs or patterns. These objects of unexpected shapes do not directly imitate nature; nonetheless they impressionistically parallel its surprising dynamism. Oliver has said, ‘When the ideas, the formal elements and the medium all work together a sculpture will “sing” with a kind of rightness. It takes on a life, a presence, which is removed from this world. It belongs to a mythical other life, without a place in time’.1 Oliver was interested in structural formation, in the principles of ‘spiralling, wrapping, binding, swelling, expanding and stretching’ – all processes of becoming.2 These meta-morphic dimensions are surmised in ‘Swathe’ 1997 (AGNSW collection), made from a web of fine copper wire. Attached to the wall, the object is a long circular limb with a slender tip at one end and an aperture at the other. The tentacle-like form curls in on itself at the peak, while shadows and light animate its intense surface texture. Meaning to wrap or bind, ‘Swathe’ is an apt and expressive title, alluding both to the material process of creation and to Oliver’s methodology.

    1. Graeme Sturgeon, ‘Contemporary Australian sculpture’, Craftsman House, Sydney 1991, p 74.
    2. Sturgeon 1991, p 73

    © Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 5 exhibitions

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 5 publications

Other works by Bronwyn Oliver