Paul Dibble 'Busy Lady'

Linda tyler
Posted on 7 March 2024

To create the illusion that this large sculpture is supported on just a few tiptoe points is a technical challenge met by an internal framework which does the job of holding up the work. From the front, the sculptor has made the figure seem solid and three dimensional but from the side, viewers will see how cleverly he flattens the rounded body to reduce weight. Cut out areas between the breasts and below the belly introduce negative space into the otherwise solid form, drawing on Paul Dibble’s study of works by constructionist sculptors including the Russian artist Alexander Archipenko. Made in his home foundry in the mid-1990s after extensive research into casting practices using furrane sand, the immaculate finish of this work belies the painstaking process of bronze casting and fitting the pieces together, then chasing and polishing the metal.

Inspired by watching a waitress in a small café in the country clear tables and serve customers with considerable speed, efficiency and aplomb, this figurative piece belongs to Dibble’s series of bronzes featuring unsung heroines. An everyday worker is transformed into a goddess, perhaps a cross between Diana, the patroness of the countryside, always on the hunt, and Aphrodite, the supernatural embodiment of love and beauty. As a concept, the Busy Lady series arrived interrupting Dibble’s Hinterland works dealing with his rural heritage, but she has her antecedent in the artist’s 1989 work, Pacific Balance, where a poised female figure holds aloft a tray of oceanic elements. This was a key work, inaugurating his life as a full-time artist.

Paul Dibble

Busy Lady

cast bronze, two parts

signed and dated 1994

1980 x 1500 x 300mm

$120 000 – $180 000

Provenance Private collection, Auckland.

View lot here

A fantastic creature, the female figure in Busy Lady is portrayed as multi-limbed, assuming different stances simultaneously. Her many attributes are reminiscent of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man who has four arms and legs, but she is much more adventurous. Nimbly, she stretches one leg out to span the distance between first and third rectangular plinths, heels off the ground and toes turned up to suggest a sprint. Like a bonnet mascot on a car, her outstretched arms are like wings, managing to suggest both elegance and speed.

Crouching beneath the commotion of the movement of Busy Lady is a hare, a symbol of vitality and fertility from classical times. The personification of multi-tasking, this woman has no time to heed her totem or she might lose her momentum and balance. Like a juggler spinning a plate on a stick, she holds aloft a serving tray with miniature ladder back chair on it, a symbol of rest which is well out of her reach. A fifth hand is usefully deployed holding a snapper. Can she feed the multitudes with her simple loaves and fishes? With a tea cup and saucer balanced on her head, dashing from kitchen to table, she will give it her best shot. She spreads her arms wide with fingers splayed as if to embrace the world and accommodate everyone, a people pleaser with no time for herself.

Linda Tyler