Victor Cusack, painter, sculptor, poet, mechanical engineer and bamboo specialist was born in Manly, Sydney in 1937. Both his cast bronze public sculptures and his paintings incorporate evolutionist and environmental themes.
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Victor Cusack, painter, sculptor, poet, author, mechanical engineer, bamboo specialist, occasional house designer and builder, was born in the Sydney suburb of Manly in 1937. Cusack’s passion for art has been his major driving force, with other successful careers between three major periods of full-time artistic endeavour.
Cusack’s art education was informal and intense. When aged only 19, he was introduced to the artist and Art Gallery of New South Wales Trustee, Erik Langker OBE, FRAS (1898 – 1982). For two and a half years he worked closely with this mentor, producing two paintings a week for Langker’s review. Robert Johnston and James R. Jackson were other influential mentors at this time. In 1956 he began exhibiting with the Royal Arts Society (RAS) alongside much older, more established artists including Norman Lindsay, then with a wider variety of galleries with other established painters including William Dobell, Russell Drysdale, Charles Blackman, Sali Herman and others. From the mid 1950s to early 1960s Cusack focused on drawing and painting landscapes, seascapes and portraits, with many of his works shown in the RAS and Australian Society of Artists (ASA) groups and solo exhibitions in Sydney and rural New South Wales.
For the next twenty years Cusack worked at a successful mechanical engineering company, including years as its director and general manager, during which time he developed an interest in sculpture. Again, in order to acquire the necessary skills he chose to go directly to an expert, this time the New Zealand sculptor Peter Sedcole, who was renowned for his figure sculpture and his teaching of sculptural technique. In 1983 Cusack resigned from his mechanical engineering position and commenced his second period of art practice and that for which he is best known: public sculpture. Combining his newly acquired sculpting technique with the skills gained from his engineering career he produced both small and large scale public sculptures. Generally the majority of this work was commissioned by local councils as place making initiatives and memorials from 1983 to the mid 1990s.
Pacific Family (1989) located at Warringah Mall, Brookvale, commissioned by Warringah Shire Council, is a four metre high, 1.5 tonne bronze sculpture and fountain that incorporates four dolphins swivelling around a seagrass core interspersed with sea creatures. The piece demonstrates Cusack’s high regard for nature and interest in the relationship between humans and the environment.
Cusack’s best known public sculpture is the 8m high, 21 tonne Man, Time and the Environment (1993), located in Florence Street Mall, Hornsby. The sculpture functions as a fountain, water clock and instrument. The fountain includes three clocks; a bronze pendulum clock, an 11th century Chinese water wheel clock and a Greek filling clock. The fountain also includes a 17 note carillon, which is played weekly. The fountain activates the town centre as a meeting place and civic monument. This work reflects Cusack’s interest in evolutionist philosophy and demonstrates his mastery of the bronze medium.
Cusack has two sculptures overseas, both given as sister city gifts. The first, gifted by Sydney and Ku-ring-gai Councils to Portsmouth City Council, England, is an additional cast of his original Ku-ring-gai Council bicentennial First Fleet (1989) sculpture. It features the Sirius in full sail mounted in a cut out world globe that is covered with relief sculpture depicting the story and history of the journey.
The second bronze, given by the Australian Heritage Council to the City of Edinburgh, Scotland, is a twice life size bust of the First Fleet’s Vice-Admiral John Hunter. R.N (August 1994), mounted on the Leith Docks in recognition of his birth place. It is the third edition of the cast; another is located in Balmoral Beach, Mosman (August 1993), and the other in Scone (March 1994), both in New South Wales.
The demands of numerous bronze commissions led Cusack to continue experimenting with casting techniques and establish Fineart Bronze Foundry in 1984 and the incorporated Fineart Bronze Foundry Pty Ltd in 1987. The company did more than cast his own commissions: having expanded to employ thirteen sculptor/artisans, it also cast works for other artists and architects. The company also specialised in the conservation and restoration of bronze sculpture, and in the casting and tuning of carillon and other bells. So successful and demanding was Fineart Bronze Foundry Pty Ltd that Cusack was unable to fully concentrate on his own creative work, so he and his business partner, Rex Feakes, sold it in 1993.
Having spent some years establishing a bamboo plantation in northern New South Wales, in 2003 Cusack commenced his third major period of art practice from his Tweed Coast residence. He returned to full time painting, drawing and making small scale bronzes and experimentation with acrylic sculptures. This body of work exhibits a strong environmental and evolutionist awareness, themes that he has also addressed in poems and manifestos. His sensuous and sometimes erotic works explore nature and the human form through images that exhibit a combination of realistic and surreal forms.
Cusack states on his Sculpture Society profile:
“I would like to be known as an environmental or philosophical sculptor/painter. I am fascinated with the challenge of man trying to come to terms with himself and the environment, the major crisis of our age.”
Through his assiduously maintained website which details the wide range of his interests, philosophies and art practices, Cusack seeks to remain independent of the commercial pressures he fears from the gallery system. Cusack’s commitment to the “subtle beauty of Australia and its environment” and to affirming the human figure as a site of pleasure, is evident both in his paintings, drawings and acrylic sculptures, and indeed throughout his oeuvre.
De Lorenzo, Dr Catherine
Note: Cooper, Katie
Note: Landscape Architecture student, Faculty of the Built Environment, University of New South Wales