Jasper Knight

Spit Bridge Tower, 2015

Mosman Art Trail Sign 10 located on footpath cnr Figtree Ln & Spit Road.

Listen to an audio recording, read by Claudia Karvan, to learn more about this artwork. 

Combining the foraging assemblage of his Australian avant-garde predecessors with a boyish painterly gusto, Jasper Knight creates images that pay homage to the industrial past of Sydney. A former winner of the Mosman Art Prize (Wharf with Yellow Palings, 2008), Knight has a deep personal connection with Sydney Harbour, having grown up on the foreshore of Kirribilli. His painted works depict the vehicles, facades, decaying docklands and industrial refuse of the city’s built urban environment, in synthetic colours and reusing materials that have contributed to its transformation. Spit Bridge Tower, painted in 2015, displays the hexagonal control tower at the centre of the Spit Bridge with heroic monumentality. Knight’s lustrous warm tones evoke his fond memories of childhood fascination with the structure.

As the built suburban areas of Sydney sprawled in the 20th century, the Spit’s treacherous tidal strait became a significant obstacle to commuters crossing Middle Harbour from the new suburbs of the Warringah Peninsula to the city. Land reclamation and a built wooden carriageway replaced ferrying punt services during the interwar years, accommodating growing numbers of motorists.1 The current modern bascule bridge opened late in 1958, with a control tower placed in the centre, surveying the single opening span and two lanes of traffic in each direction. Home to one of Sydney’s busiest roads, the Spit Bridge is remarkably the last opening bridge still in use within the city’s network.2

Confining the harbour to a small inky panel in the lower left hand corner, Knight’s artwork celebrates the triumph of the built environment. Closely cropping the frame of his vision to depict the tower alone, separated from its horizontal support, the structure becomes a free-standing tower, surveying the area from on high with the isolated solemn duty of a sentry. Topped with a gleaming pale yellow glass panes, Spit Bridge Tower joins other towers and lighthouses in Knight’s body of work as icons of the artist’s personal childhood memories in the harbour city, but also as enduring cultural landmarks, records of the way that we have dominated the natural landscape and ensured safe passage throughout its waters. In writing “Spit Bridge Tower / 1958” on the reverse of this painting, Knight indicates that he is painting this iconic structure as it has appeared to many successive generations of Sydneysiders, standing steadfast against waves of public opinion.

Knight’s mature style of painting is distinctive, often featuring a semi-abstract gridded patchwork of planes of pure (mostly primary) colour and thick dripping outlines of black enamel. The artist harnesses the clean lines and the unusual textures and colours of his eclectic found materials (marine plywood, Masonite peg boards, sheets of aluminium and road signs) to express the various faces of his geometric constructions. Although Spit Bridge Tower is painted on assembled aluminium and plywood boards, their straight edges do not form the contours of the architectural building, these are instead painted freehand with organically uneven lines. Combined with the messy drips of liquid paint, these details bring a warm authenticity of imperfect memories to an otherwise impersonal industrial construction.

1 Morris, P., ‘Mosman Past: Crossing the Spit (1830 - 1958)’, Mosman Times Gone By, Mosman Historical Society, Sydney, 2023, pp. 58 - 60
2 Taylor, A., ‘Sydney Traffic Nightmare: How A Single Boat Can Paralyse One of Sydney’s Busiest Roads’, Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, 7 February 2021

Text by Lucie Reeves-Smith.

Private collection, Sydney
Menzies, Melbourne, 10 August 2017, lot 116
Balnaves Collection, Sydney, acquired from the above
Mosman Art Gallery, Sydney, a gift from the above in 2011

Photo credit Jacquie Manning

Additional Specifications

born 1978
enamel, synthetic polymer paint, plywood and aluminium on board
200.0 x 150.0 cm
signed, dated and inscribed verso: Jasper/ Knight/ 2015/ 'Spit/ Bridge/ 1958’