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What’s wrong with the quirky sculptures above the shops in Marrickville?

By on May 11, 2022 0

For 22 years, a collection of steel figurines has watched over Marrickville in Sydney. A shrewd gyros leader, a woman receiving a banging wave and an anthropomorphized banana – complete with a Carmen Miranda-inspired headdress – are just some of the quirky characters adorning the shops of Marrickville and Illawarra Roads, relics of an era Gone and a The 90s penchant for bold awnings and creative signage still persists on many local shopping streets across the country.

Originally commissioned by the (then) town of Marrickville as a novel tourist attraction to coincide with the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the steel sculptures have become part of the fabric of the neighborhood. While some of the original figures have since been removed (and are stored by the council), more than a dozen statues continue to hang over six storefronts, adding a splash of color and eccentricity to the streets.

It was Ces Camilleri’s first steel sculpture tableaus – a festive scene of galvanized glamor atop a barbershop in Acland Street in Melbourne, St Kilda – that caught the eye of a Marrickville council official after have been featured in postcards, a travel book, a TV show and even vogue magazine, according to Camilleri. “The disco dancer, she even went to the closing party of the TV show before I installed her – it was a bit of a buzz.”

Shortly after, “in early 1999”, he was invited to Sydney’s mid-west to pitch the concept to local shop owners who were offered a chance to get 50% off the cost of a , one-of-a-kind sculpture, plus ongoing annual maintenance, covered by the council in its attempt to attract Olympic tourism to the area. Camilleri had quickly registered seven companies to participate.

The owners gave Camilleri complete creative control; he then designed the unique additions to the streetscape. Affectionately speaking of his creations and always referring to them as individuals. Camilleri says he tried to inject “love and humor and a bit of fun” into the scenes. His favorite is the hapless fisherman who still chairs Marrickville Seafood. “It’s kind of funny, his engine broke, he got lost and he ran into a shark.”

There are also two gentlemen on top of a dentist (formerly a men’s clothing store). Victoria Yeeros is still home to a cook busy slicing meat from his upright rotisserie, while three punters enjoy a beer on the Royal Exchange canopy. The flamboyant banana, once the mascot of Banana Joe’s grocery store, now presides over a Woolworths subway and the woman who receives a wave of beatings is above the ever-commercial Fernandos Hair Design.

Growing up in Ascot Vale in Melbourne, Camilleri studied at Niddrie Tech, a carpentry and metalwork training. He particularly enjoyed the clay modeling lessons. He says although he never had any formal training in sculpture, “art has always been in my soul – it’s just a natural thing with me”.

Camilleri’s creative process begins with sketches before moving designs onto 2.4 by 1.2 meter sheets of steel – the “same material as your car door” – which he then cuts into front panels. to manipulate them like oversized origami into “figurines” as he calls them. Each section of hair and laces are painstakingly crafted and individually fitted before the entire piece is immersed in a bath of pure zinc to prevent damage from the elements once installed. Then they are sanded and painted by hand with sign paint, “similar to automotive paint”, using both the hand and the airbrush. He says each figure took him about three weeks.

After a 10-month creation process, the 17 steel figures, each weighing between 20 and 30 kilograms, and their respective accessories – tables, chairs, palm trees and even an entire front bar, were wrapped in bubble wrap, bundled in a three-ton container. truck and driven by Camilleri from his steel fabrication shop in Melbourne onto the streets of Marrickville to begin their decades-long reign. It took him about eight days to set up the scenes.

Camilleri continued to visit her designs for an annual check-up, never missing a trip until the pandemic hit. It has now been three years since he went to tighten their nuts and bolts, clean them and touch up any paint damage. “I’ll try to get up there around November, I think they’re a little late for some love.”