Bronwyn Oliver 1959-2006
Bronwyn Oliver was a noted sculptor working mainly in copper and other metals. Initially she became so through a computer error; she enrolled in a painting course at Alexander Mackie College of Advanced Education, but discovered that she had been allocated to the sculpture course. She commented later ‘I knew straight away I was in the right place.’2
Oliver was an exceptional student both artistically and academically and had early success with her works. She had several solo exhibitions, mostly in Australia and once in New Zealand. She also exhibited several times in Europe as part of exhibitions focusing on select groups of Australian artists. She was awarded and shortlisted for several prestigious prizes throughout her career.
Oliver’s works have been universally admired for the combined strength and delicacy of their construction. She was keenly interested in the way objects are created from the inside out and was very meticulous about their manufacture. Her works were often made by manipulating wire into subtle forms and building separate pieces around a mould. These would be carefully entwined together either by twisting the metal into exactly the right place, or by bending with pliers and expertly clipping with wirecutters. The shapes were also created through soldering or weaving the wire.
By 2006, Oliver’s character of recoiling from social life and being very limited in her relationships and the people she trusted took its toll. She had become increasingly difficult, solitary, anxious, and apprehensive over recent years. In July 2006 she committed suicide. No one could definitively identify the reasons why. A report published in 2013 stated that a sample was taken from her hair for analysis which discovered that there were abnormally high levels of copper, roughly eight times usual levels. Copper poisoning has sometimes been associated with mental illnesses and may have been aggravated by low zinc levels due to her refusal to eat red meat.
A documentary has been published on ABC iview recently (October 2021) which details the life and work of Oliver – ‘Bronwyn Oliver: The Shadows Within’.3