Ricardo's heroic 'spirits' watch over the marshy creek bed like gargoyles or soaring figures on Gothic cathedrals.
Geoffrey Ricardo's Spirits of Time and Place, eight monolithic sculptures spread over a 2km trail along Kororoit Creek Toyota Park are far from a 'Sculpture by the Sea' or an 'Art for Art's Sake' setting.
These works, giants of concrete, fiberglass, aluminum and treated steel are in real time and a permanent place. They have a job to do in Melbourne's industrial west where the community faces the imminent closure of the Altona Toyota plant and the demise of over 2500 jobs.
The brief, supported by Toyota, required artwork that would complement the restoration work by Friends of Kororoit Creek, pay homage to the indigenous clans and commemorate the contribution of employees over the 50year history of the manufacturing plant.
It was an astute decision to select Australian Sculptor Geoffrey Ricardo, and only Ricardo, for this challenging commission that is of a scale and significance rarely undertaken by one artist in an Australian architecture or landscape design context.
Not only does Ricardo have a studio where he lives in the West but he also brings to this task a number of unique qualities as an artist.
Throughout his career Ricardo has demonstrated the strongest work ethic. He has created a prodigious body of work in printmaking and sculpture. In addition, his ongoing thematic focus on the struggle for survival for human and non-human species gives him an edge in this challenging industrial territory.
His much loved gigantic metal beasts - elephants, rhinoceros and kangaroos - are environmental alarm bells and his dark and satiric prints are rooted in his wry sense of planetary doom.
But unlike Ricardo's previous work, these sculptures are heroic - imbued with a powerful spirit of optimism and hope.
There is Manimal Spirit a hybrid of man, kangaroo and bird alluding to the indigenous past of Country. Preserving Spirit protectively clutches a variety of native birds. Spirit of Water collects rain in cups on a Tree of Life for the birds to drink and bathe. Flight Spirit with aeroplane wings is preparing for 'take off'. Skygazer is an essential minimalist form, unburdened and looking skywards. Ascension Spirit is reaching to the heavens via a precarious ladder that draws the eye out of the creek bed into the expansive skies. My favorite, the Renewal Spirit, is a kangaroo-man solidly grounded by huge feet, a tectonic form potent with immense energy and innocence.
These sculptures are literally spiriting in a new age, guiding walkers and cyclists along the path of the marshy wetland restoration, reconnecting a community to its natural habitat - to creek, birds, sky, rain, winds and native flora and fauna.
Ricardo has worked tirelessly and consulted deeply with his community to create a series of powerful artworks that successfully herald in a new era for the industrial suburban wasteland we know as Melbourne's West.
This project represents an Australian milestone in the critical role of the artist in the design of urban landscapes and public spaces.
Photos: Jo Moulton Bruce Esplin and Geoffrey Ricardo