Artwork Detail

Figure with Eel
Paramount Award Winner, 1999 Wallace Art Awards.

Bing Dawe has rendered the forms in Figure with Eel as though they are sectional arcs of a larger wheel. Indeed this work is conceived like a diagram which is partially two-dimensional and partially three- dimensional. The circular nature of the composition and the motif of the eel trap are reminiscent of the classical idea of the Rota Fortunae or Wheel of Fate, a cycle in which both man and eel are trapped.

The partial representation of the man derives from the fact that the image is represented from a submerged view point – the viewer is effectively under the water with the eel, and the only parts of the man that can be seen are his head and arm, which he has dipped under the surface to inspect the trap. Significantly, the eel is rising above the trap towards the surface, suggesting that it wants to avoid or escape the trap, and that in prodding it the man is either trying to liberate it or prevent it from leaving. Either way, the notions of escape and entrapment are strongly evident in the work, and the physical contact between the man’s finger and the eel reinforces the symbolic linkage between the two. The motif of the man appearing through the surface and extending his finger to the eel contains a strong echo of the God and Adam figures in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling.

A water cycle connecting human activity and aquatic creatures is clearly implied in Figure with Eel. The communion between man and eel at the centre of the work suggests equally a scientific, ecological concern, and a more animistic or totemic identification with nature. Dawe’s sculptures frequently reference the natural and cultural ecologies associated with the local waterways of the Canterbury region, where he lives – but these concerns are also only readable here because what we have before us in Figure with Eel is a consummate act of construction and expression modulated together.

Catalogue text:
Published on the occasion of the Twenty Wallace Art Awards Paramount Winners Exhibition.
14 February to 22 April 2012 at The Pah Homestead, TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre and 2 August to 30 September 2012 at the Wallace Gallery Morrinsville.
Kauri, steel, wire mesh
1200 x 1000 x 500mm
Not signed or dated
Accession number

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