Polystyrene art works 1995 – 2001 

Mathieu Gallois, 2001

As a student at the Canberra School of art in the 1990s, Gallois came across a small piece of polystyrene discarded in the sculpture workshop and preceded to make a series of sculptures from this curious and fascinating material.

During this early art-making period, Gallois was interested in creating ephemeral works that subverted the commercialisation of art. As an odd non-material, polystyrene proved to be an appropriately subversive ‘vehicle’ for these concerns.

The first polystyrene sculpture Gallois made was a ‘sketch’ investigation of form and materials Untitled (1995). The work’s aim was to blur the distinction between two-dimensional and three-dimensional objects. The sculptures materials included unprocessed photographic paper, polystyrene, reflective foil, soft foam covered in rainbow coloured materials and synthetic day-glow pink clean and wipe cloth. A subsequent work was a life sized post-modern reinterpretation of Clement Meadmore’s sculptures Meadmore revisted (1995). The final series Gallois made in Canberra consisted of nature scapes carved in polystyrene. Representative of these works was Nature in Reproduction (1996). In this work, Gallois carved a fragment of a rain forest out of polystyrene and reproduced that element in receding increments, creating a three-dimensional, in perspective, sculpture of ‘nature’.

Gallois’ investigations and use of polystyrene culminated in the creation of Frontier (1998). Created as a site-specific work in the Blair Athol Neighbourhood development in Western Sydney, the work consisted of a full-scale house made from polystyrene. Frontier expressed the social and material alienation Gallois felt at the time, and it critiqued the alienating structures of expedient profit driven urban development. In 2001, with the generous support of art patron Peter Fay, Gallois created Drive Thru for the Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award in Melbourne (the work was Highly Commended by the judges). For the prize’s catalogue, Gallois wrote the following the essay ‘Polystyrene’.

Polystyrene is the signature material of Gallois’ early practice.