sculptor, was born at Glenelg South Australian, the youngest of five children. Her father was the geologist and Antarctic explorer Cecil Madigan. She first developed her love of sculpture while at Walford House, Unley. She left school in 1938 because of illness. In 1939 she studied at the Girls Central Art School, Adelaide, having decided very early on to pursue a career as a sculptor. After moving to Sydney in 1940 Madigan attended night drawing classes at East Sydney Technical College under Liz Blaxland. In 1941 and 42 she studied sculpture under Lyndon Dadswell. On returning to Adelaide she completed three years of evening classes at the School of Art (1944-46)where her fellow students included Jeffrey Smart and Jacqueline Hick, while working at John Martin Department store by day. In 1947 she returned to East Sydney and completed her Diploma in Fine Art (Sculpture) in 1948. After marrying fellow student Jack Giles in 1949 and adopting his name, she won the NSW Travelling Art Scholarship in 1950, only the third sculptor to receive this award.
She left Australia in 1950 to study in Europe for three years, stopping at Bombay on the way where she saw the sculptures at Ellora Caves. Her first daughter, Mnemosyne was born in November of that year. She studied stone carving at the John Cass College, London, but most of this time was characterised by by extensive travel in Europe, including a year spent in Italy. Her second daughter, Celia, was born in 1953. The same year she returned to Australia via India, where she spent time drawing at both the Ellora and Ajanta caves. On her return to Australia the family settled in Adelaide, where she raised her daughters (her third daughter Alice was born in 1961) and taught pottery, painting and sculpture at various schools and at the School of Art. She completed a major commission, the Downer fountain for St Mark’s College, Adelaide, in 1964. With the end of her marriage Madigan returned to Sydney in 1973 and continued to sculpt and teach both at the East Sydney Technical College and at the Sculpture Centre. At this time she began her creative and personal partnership with the sculptor Robert Klippel ( they lived near each other but in separate houses). In the 1980s she experimented with assemblages-constructing works from small wooden machine pattern parts-before reverting to carving figurative works in wood and stone, the materials in which her most significant sculptures have been produced. She continued to draw, paint and produce collages in parallel with this.
Madigan was the recipient of of Australia Council grants in 1976 and 1985 and was the winner of the Wynne Prize in 1986, the first sculptor to receive the prize in over 50 years.
Since her first experience with an automatic drill-carving a stone female form in London in 1952-the female torso has been the focus of much of Rosemary Madigan’s work. Madigan has had an active career as both a teacher and sculptor since winning the New South Wales Travelling Art Scholarship in 1950 but it was only in the last decades that these compact and subtle torsos came to greater public prominence. She should also be better known as the creator of a number of the most compelling religious sculptures executed in Australia, for instance The Yellow Christ (1968).
An independent thinker, Madigan’s interests since her student years placed her somewhat outside the mainstream of Australian sculptural production. Yet her allegiance to the humanist tradition, with its adherence to the impact of the sculptor’s hand, has been of primary importance to the development of many of Australia’s modern sculptors.
Madigan’s exposure to Indian sculpture-beginning with a visit to the Bombay Museum on her way to Europe and three weeks spent drawing the Ellora cave sculptures on her way home-has been profoundly influential. It is not surprising that while in Europe in the early 1950s it was not the heritage of Henry Moore or the biomorphic visions of the immediate post-war generation of British sculptors which had lasting impact, but the `humanity and the down-to-earthness’ of Romanesque sculpture.
Critics have tended to assess Madigan’s art as a restrained homage to the preoccupations of an earlier generation of modern figurative sculptors, and indeed several of her most successful torsos share qualities intrinsic to Gaudier-Breszka’s work, for example. Nonetheless, although figurative concerns have largely remained central, the parameters of Madigan’s art are larger than such a characterisation would allow.
Torso (1954) is not based on the life model but on Madigan’s desire to explore and articulate generic human form. Executed in Adelaide, this was the first sculpture she completed after returning to Australia. In its stylised, attenuated form-somewhat removed from the spare late works-one is tempted to see the sinuous line of Indian sculpture. Madigan has said of it:
I think I was very concerned with understanding the body … not specifically as far as muscles went, but the way the inner structures-the rib cage and pelvis, two major inner structures-work together. Because I was so interested in the way it articulated, I didn’t deal with the arms or legs or head. I was not thinking of realism at all, but of the basic articulation: coping with a complex three dimensional form … I was never concerned to get a “type” of figure … I’m really only interested in the form.