Ben Trupperbäumer

Little Dwellings
Perc Tucker Regional Gallery, Townsville; Cairns Regional Gallery, Cairns
17 August – 7 October 2007; 4 April – 25 May 2008

‘Little Dwellings’, an introspective exhibition of nine artworks by Ben Trupperbäumer, explored a particular period of the artist’s formative years decades earlier in Germany.

Since his art career was established in the early 1980s, Trupperbäumer has carved a unique role for himself within the North Queensland art scene and beyond. He is well known for his three dimensional timber and bronze sculptures, and in more recent years his lightly carved timber slabs.

One of Trupperbäumer’s more enduring traits is his constant artistic re-evaluation. Each exhibition presents evidence of development in either technique or concept. He has said that he faces a continual questioning and believes that re-experiencing a particular period in his life may lead to a new direction. Add to this, the fact that his intense manual work over the years has resulted in his hands no longer being capable of putting in the hours required to create his labour intensive artworks. He queried ‘How to be meaningful and vital, and work within this limitation?’ This question did not go unanswered for long.

In 2005, Trupperbäumer’s move to the Atherton Tablelands from Mission Beach (both in far North Queensland) proved to be a catalyst. One key factor was that he had built his Mission Beach house with his own hands, but the new owners of this prime piece of real estate did not recognise its intrinsic value and demolished the house.

A second key factor, which may not have been spoken loudly, is that this resonated with the memory of his parents encouraging his free thought and innovation—until the age of thirteen, when a wall was brought down on his self-expression. This exhibition focused on his childhood aged eight to thirteen years, a period of ‘a golden haze of lovely memories’, with a few links to the recent demolition of his Mission Beach house.

Each work included a small sculptural piece on a plinth set against a background timber mural. In Trupperbäumer’s words the murals ‘speak to work in front’. Each mural had a unique background treatment—from whitewashed figures to lacquered organic forms.

The exception to this was I Never had a Tree House, the only large scale sculptural work, and without a background mural, which was made from timber salvaged from his Mission Beach house. This work segues into the creation of Tent in my garden, a work of two sculptures, one in timber and one in bronze. Revealingly, Trupperbäumer liked the timber sculpture very much, and wanted a lasting memento, so he de-assembled it and had it cast in bronze. Now, no matter what happens to the timber original, he will still have the bronze replica. The background story is that he was given some old Hessian sacks when he was nine. ‘It provided me with the material for a tent-like structure. I dug some maple saplings into the soil and draped the sacks over the rickety assemblage. To everyone’s surprise in the next spring the saplings had sprouted producing some new flushes of leaf growth.’ This tenacity spoke to him of post-war European settlement, the four seasons, and the wonder of how the saplings could stay alive in such a violent climate.

Building on that theme, Friends in my kaleidoscopic youth highlights European settlement and survival. It is an honour board of people, particularly refugees from Poland and the old Eastern Block who were running from the Russian Army. Against his youthful memories of peace and harmony, he is now more mentally prepared for the truth of the situation and feels he owes a memory to them.