Commissioned to capture a legacy

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Written By

Hannah Gray


College of Arts, Society and Education

Publish Date

14 May 2021

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The commission competition

How do you capture a legacy in a single moment? This was a question faced by JCU graduate Jane Hawkins when she was commissioned to create a sculpture of Johnathan Thurston for Townsville’s new Queensland Country Bank Stadium.

From competing with talented sculptors and working hard to design a statue of an icon, to meeting and working with the man himself, Jane’s journey through creating this statue was a memorable one.

Jane Hawkins is a talented and experienced sculptor. Jane earned her Master of Creative Arts at JCU and lectured in the School of Creative Arts in Sculpture for over 20 years.

“My work at JCU allowed me time to develop my studio practice and allowed me to finance many of my sculpture projects,” she says. “I can definitively state that JCU had a massive effect on my career as an artist.”

After beating out her competition to be commissioned for the JT statue, it’s clear that Jane stands out. “I believe my attention to detail sets my work apart from that of many other sculptors,” Jane says. “I excel at modelling ‘fine detail’. It draws positive comments and it gives interesting places for the eye to dwell.”

However, when faced with the competition for this commission, Jane wasn’t so sure she could stand out that much.

“I was the only sculptor from North Queensland shortlisted, but I was competing with very experienced sculptors, so I wasn’t confident that I would be selected,” Jane says.

The base of Janes statue in progress
Wayne Martin painting the Indigenous artwork for the plinth
Left: The plinth in progress. Right: Wayne creating the design for the plinth.

Determining the design

Though Jane wasn’t confident she would be selected, her concept for the statue earned her the job.

“There were two aspects of my concept design that I think may have contributed to mine being the successful tender for this project,” Jane says. “Both aspects involve the design of the plinth.”

The plinth is the base of a statue. Though this could be a part of the design that is overlooked, Jane paid close attention to its importance and potential. Jane made the plinth to be a wide, flat cylinder about 2.2m in diameter, and about 0.4m in height, allowing people to interact with the statue.

“They could step up onto the plinth and be on the same level as JT,” Jane says. “This would make the statue, as JT is in real life, approachable from a selfies perspective. It would also create a comfortable height for it to be used as a seat for photographs or a meeting place.”

The design brief for the statue called for Johnathan Thurston’s role as a leader, a mentor and a role model to be reflected in the project. This may seem like a challenge, but it is one that Jane met head-on – or feet-on.

“Representing these aspects of JT’s contribution to the community and to North Queensland would have been difficult to achieve within the statue itself, which highlighted JT’s greatest sporting achievement,” Jane says. “So, in order to recognise and represent JT’s community work, I suggested incorporating an appropriately-designed Indigenous artwork that told his story around the plinth.”

Enter Indigenous artist Wayne Martin, who created the painting Birrang, which represents JT’s journey. “Like Wayne, I feel honoured to have been involved in creating a tribute to a legend that combined a statue and an Indigenous artwork to tell the whole story,” Jane says.

As for the statue itself, Jane wanted to create a dynamic form that reflected Johnathan Thurston’s vibrant personality and honoured the contribution he made to the sport of Rugby League.

“I was drawn to the field goal that won the 2015 NRL Grand Final in typical, breathtaking, Queensland derby style,” Jane says. “Not just because it was THAT kick. It was also a kick JT performed many times during his career and in my mind – and in the minds of many others I have spoken to – represented the essence of the man.”

JT posing next to Jane's clay statue of him
The finished statue of JT kicking a flaming football
Left: Johnathan Thurston with Jane's unfinished statue. Right: Jane's statue having its final waxing.

However, capturing the essence of a legend isn’t an easy task.

Not only is this the first statue Jane has done where she didn’t know the model beforehand, but it is also the highest-profile project she has undertaken. The pose itself also added to the challenge.

“This was the most difficult life-size statue that I have undertaken,” Jane says. “I chose a very dynamic pose for it – one that no model would have been able to hold. Normally I work from life, but for a substantial portion of the 370 hours I spent modelling the form in clay, I had to work from photos, which was a lot slower. The pose is also very three-dimensional. With arms and legs going in all directions, I had my work cut out for me.”

For Jane, the true triumph was capturing a moment and a man in one artwork.

“Finding a balance between being faithful to the expression captured on JT’s face in that photo of that kick and creating a likeness instantly recognisable as JT was the biggest challenge of all,” Jane says. “It was a moment of intense focus and concentration – completely different from that wonderful grin and infectious laugh that we all associate with Johnathan Thurston.”

Of course, a highlight of the process for Jane was working with the man himself. Having been a fan of his from the day she heard he was joining the Cowboys, Jane remembers seeing him grow from a young unknown to the role model he is today.

“Many people asked me what he is really like,” she says. “I can honestly say he was absolutely wonderful to work with, very aware of and considerate of others, and very easygoing. I can see now why he fits in so well and has made Townsville his home. And I just loved being able to make him laugh occasionally – it was all worth it for that alone!”

Jane’s hard work and artistry is now on display at the Queensland Country Bank Stadium and standing proud for all to see.

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