“Brickyards Night School” by Ralf Kempken
Aluminium stencil, 2019
Marrickville Library & Pavillion

Commissioned by the Inner West Council through The Wall Station, Ralf Kempken’s 16 metre aluminium stencil is a feature of the new Marrickville Library and Pavillion open space courtyard.

The three dimensional aspects of the aluminium panels inspire viewers to approach the artwork from different angles and explore the optical illusions created by the screens.

The artwork is inspired by the story of the children working in the brickyards as ‘puggers’ who were removed from school by their families to help make ends meet. In the 1880s, Marrickville had the largest brick making site in Sydney.

School master Richard Guile from St. Peter’s Certified Church of England School was actively against young children being taken out of his school and advocated for their education to come first. In response to children being removed from the school, Reverend Charles Baber set up a Night School for the children working at the brickyards through the St Peter’s Church.

Ralf Kempken’s practice of creating ‘screens’ represents the way we filter all we see through past experiences and memories, particularly childhood. The way we view the world is always filtered and screened through our own personal experience. The vertical lines of Ralf’s artwork create an optical illusion and challenge the viewer to work to interpret the imagery of the children.

As secondary imagery, Ralf has included adult faces to represent educational figures and workers from the brickyards who would have each added to the children’s learning and educational opportunities. Images of children’s eyes from various racial backgrounds from images, past and present, are featured in the artwork.