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Skywhale soars once again in the skies over Canberra | Australia news

For six years, nine months and 27 days Canberra’s skies had missed her. But on Monday morning one of Australia’s most memorable and polarising artworks, the bulbous and beautiful Skywhale, was home.

At dawn the 30-metre inflatable balloon with “a calm, benign expression” and 10 pendulous teats soared once again through a sky deprived for so long of her matronly presence.

Created by the internationally renowned Canberran artist Patricia Piccinini, Skywhale first flew to mark the city’s centenary in May 2013, and has since been to Ireland, Japan, Brazil and Victoria’s Yarra Valley to much acclaim.

However, on Monday the iconic whale flew alone, despite hopes that she would be joined by a partner – a new, “strong and gentle” companion called Skywhalepapa, announced by the artist in November.

Described as “taller and more vertical” than Skywhale, Picinni said he was not necessarily Skywhale’s husband but would be “surrounded by a group of Skywhale children”.

A mockup of SkyWhalepapa, a companion piece to Patricia Piccinini’s 2013 hot air balloon SkyWhale.

A mockup of SkyWhalepapa, a companion piece to Patricia Piccinini’s 2013 hot air balloon SkyWhale. Photograph: Patricia Piccinini/National Gallery of Australia

Jaklyn Babington, the National Gallery of Australia’s senior curator of contemporary art, told Guardian Australia Skywhalepapa had been delayed but he will be set to fly in May.

The new balloon will be approximately 37 metres wide, 30 metres tall and will weigh 400kg. Described as “incredibly muscular” and “a very complex balloon”, Skywhalepapa is nearly finished but still has to undergo a lengthy safety process before he flies, including being registered as an aircraft.

Compared to the initial sketch, he “has necessarily needed to become a little bit wider, and a little more balanced”, Babington said, although he remains “very similar to Patricia’s initial sketch”.

“I think people will be very excited by his texturing,” she said. “He has got this great fleshy colour, but across his back it is really rough and grey, like a charcoal colour. He has light little bumps on him.

“His face is really kind. He has got a fairly pointy snout. And the babies are super cute. He is incredibly muscular and masculine looking and I think that is part of Patricia’s point … He is the caregiver; he is cradling and nurturing these calves.”

He was created by Cameron’s Balloons in Bristol, who also created Skywhale, and it took 16 people six months to sew him together.

“He is a very complex balloon,” Babington said. “The Skywhale was commissioned in 2013 and things have moved forward in the industry. There are new printing processes and updated materials … We didn’t want to rush him.”

The original Skywhale was “always about maternity and care”, Piccinni told Guardian Australia in November.

“It’s never my intention to shock in my work,” she said. “I understand that sometimes it is quite intense, but that’s not Skywhale … People seem to be amazingly freaked out by breasts [but they were] not presented in a sexualised way.”

On Monday Skywhale will join the Canberra balloon spectacular in the morning and will be tethered to the lawns outside Old Parliament House from 8pm on Monday.

“I think it is kind of nice having a staggered approach,” Babington said. “The Skywhale has her own history. She needs to be reintroduced to Canberra. When Skywhalepapa arrives and brings the children, the family will be together.”

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