There was a show of my caricature sculptures in the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery opened by the Lord Mayor. People were crowded round the funny little Hawke head and the Lord Mayor said, half seriously, “We’re asking sculptors to pitch for the latest head for the Prime Ministers Avenue. Why don’t you put your hat in the ring?” I took him at his word, quoted very low, and got the job.
I secured a sitting with Hawke, in his office, through fellow journos in The Age Canberra bureau. He was preoccupied but totally co-operative as I took some good photos from 100% side-on and 100% front-on. I produced a set sculptors’ callipers to measure the proportions of his head. I had read about this in Eduourd Lanteri’s classic on sculpture, and had practiced using them on my wife the day before.
Hawke winced involuntarily as I waved them under his nose, trying desperately to look as if I did this every day, but he sat very still and patiently while I took a number of key measurements. Somewhere in my studio I still have an A3 manila envelope with his head measurements pencilled on it. I used the same envelope for the later PMs. Hawke’s head was the biggest.
I made some little clay maquettes trying to get the idea of a serious, realistic portrait, but in each case the nose came out too big and the eyebrows were laughable. I calmed down, and used the measurements from the callipers to calibrate my sights. After a few day’s work I produced a three-quarter-life-size head that looked good to me and I cast it into dental plaster. Here it is.
Next I started a larger bust, aiming for about 125% life size, which was bigger than earlier busts in the Avenue. I had an instinct that in the TV age the public got more up close and personal with the PM than in earlier times when there were only town hall meetings and radio.
The resulting head got away from me a bit. To my eye now it looks over-the-top, but this version of Superbob was immediately popular with the public, perhaps because it has elements of caricature.