Clement Meadmore was an Australian-American sculptor, designer and author. He was best known for his massive outdoor steel sculptures that can be found all around the world, usually in front of museums, corporate headquarters and universities.
Early Life and Education
Meadmore was born on February 9, 1929, in Melbourne, Australia. His mother, Mary Agnes Ludlow Meadmore, was a Scotswoman as raised in Australia. Mary Agnes was a great admirer of the arts and greatly influenced her son in this. She introduced him to the works of Jesse Jewhurst Hilder, a watercolourist, and Meadmore’s uncle, as well as ballet and the works of Edgar Degas. This exposure to the arts at an early age may have moulded Meadmore into the artist that he became as an adult. This holds especially true with Degas, whose subtle influence can be found in Meadmore’s mature work.
Meadmore studied at the Melbourne Technical College (now known as the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) from 1946 to 1949. Initially, he majored in aeronautical engineering, but when the college started to offer a formal industrial design course, Meadmore quickly took the opportunity to explore this area of study.
Life Post Studies and Career in Australia
After graduating in 1949, Meadmore started promoting himself as an industrial designer, creating furniture that met with more than a modicum of success. His first notable design was a corded black steel dining chair that came out in 1952. It featured a steel frame wrapped in synthetic fibre cord that came in a number of colours. The chair came out under the Meadmore Originals banner and was sold in a furniture store in Collins St. in Melbourne. Meadmore designed other furniture after his first one, including a recliner and a dining table that had a similar aesthetic. Meadmore designed furniture until 1953, the year his first sculpture was put up for sale.
In 1956, Meadmore partnered briefly with Max Robinson to manufacture furniture. This was followed by a collaboration with painter Leonard French to work on the interiors of Legend Espresso and Milk Bar in Melbourne.
By the mid to late 1950s, Meadmore was concentrating more and more on his sculptures. He would get several commissions for exhibits during this time, including some one-man shows in Melbourne and Sydney. In 1960, to pursue this part of his career more, he moved to Sydney. There, he exhibited his sculptures in a couple of galleries. He also was awarded a commission to create a sculptured balustrade for the Town House Hotel in Canberra. Lastly, during his time there, he briefly taught sculpture at the National Art School.
Move to New York
In 1963, at the age of 34, Meadmore moved to New York. He would later become a United States citizen and spend the rest of his days there. The one exception was when he went back to Australia to spend a year as a photo editor for Vogue Magazine. Once in New York, he fully committed to his sculpting. This is reflected by the great number of Meadmore sculptures around the United States and the rest of the world.
Sculpture Design Techniques and Philosophy
Meadmore was partial to using COR-TEN steel for his sculptures. Also known as weathering steel, COR-TEN was a steel alloy that did not need to be painted, taking on a stable rust-like appearance after years of weather exposure. Meadmore was actually one of the first sculptors to apply the material to their work. However, he also occasionally used aluminium and in some rare instances, bronze.
His sculptures were usually colossal in scale, combining both the elements of abstract expressionism and minimalism. A sculpture by Clement Meadmore would typically be in the form of a single, rectangular object, not unlike a steel beam or tube, but twisted and turned upon itself before jutting out into open space. Although he started out as a minimalist artist, he slowly turned to abstract materialism to convey more emotion and intuitiveness in his designs. While his later works became more complex, one can notice that he did not abandon minimalism entirely.
Meadmore started his career designing furniture. In fact, in Australia, he is better known for his furniture than his sculptures. His first creation, the corded black dining chair, was received positively by both critics and people at large in Australia. In fact, it appeared in several design features and on covers of magazines during that time. It also won a Good Design Award from the Good Design Society of Sydney. His subsequent designs also did very well. According to the 1953 Meadmore Originals catalogue, he has created no less than 13 designs for his brand.
Even though Meadmore all but abandoned furniture design to concentrate on sculpting, his furniture designs never really faded from public view. The reason for this was that his furniture never went out of production in Australia until the early 1980s. This was due to the efforts of his associate, Michael Hirst. Hirst was a furniture designer and manufacturer from Melbourne. When Meadmore went to America, Hirst got permission to manufacture the former’s furniture and sell them through outlets like Andersons. Hirst also sold them via interior decorators in Melbourne.
As for Meadmore’s design philosophy when creating furniture, he treated his work as if it were a problem that needed to be solved. While all of his creations were functional and aesthetically pleasing, his creativity was boosted by the challenge of using different materials. He experimented on alloys, synthetic fibres, plywood and others to see if they could work. However, the basic forms remained the same.
Other Artistic Pursuits
Meadmore wrote a couple of books in his lifetime. He wrote How to Make Furniture Without Tools and The Modern Chair: Classic Designs by Thonet, Breuer, Le Corbusier, Eames and Others. He was also an amateur drummer, often holding jam sessions in his home. He loved jazz, and that fondness was reflected in the names of quite a number of his sculptures: Rift, Night and Day and Round Midnight.
Death and Legacy
Clement Meadmore died on April 19, 2005, due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. He passed away in his home in New York City. As his legacy, he left behind his modernist sculptures, big as life and as expressive as their creator.