Last Friday evening Perth artist John Cartwright lost hundreds of his paintings in a devastating fire that ravaged his Inglewood studio.
How hard is it for an artist to lose a body of work to fire, particularly an artist of John Cartwright’s age and stature in Australian Art? In his confusion and distress at the enormity of the loss John was quoted as saying that he may retire. He may do that, but I hope he doesn’t as he still has so much to offer.
It was in 1971 that he burst onto the local art scene with an exhibition at the Churchill Gallery in Subiaco. John Hansen was the owner of the gallery and the framing business that was attached. Exhibitions would be held in the upstairs gallery with access by the narrow stairwell to the side of the framing showroom. The exhibition openings were generally a crowded Sunday afternoon event from 2 till 5 with ample refreshments available. Often the artist was present to explain the images but irrespective, a fine time was had by all and lively discussions were the rule.
I wasn’t able to attend that original opening and by the time I made it to the exhibition only 1 work out of 35 or so was available, a rather plain piece of middling size judging by the dynamics and dimensions of the others on show. The painting was secured for $125 with a slight discount as it was the last of the offering to be sold and I was pleased to have an example from the inaugural exhibition.
The painting was considered to be a ground floor purchase, as great things were expected of John. His work was so unique and fresh, it set the local art world alight.
John Cartwright’s subjects and style didn’t vary a lot from that original show. His palette would brighten and farm animals would appear as the scenery became more comprehensive. But in the main he would continue to incise the South West landscapes and their rustic dwellings into his gesso covered hardboard panels before applying his distinctive colours and glossy finish.
Cartwright’s landscapes and houses were exhibited across Australia in galleries as prestigious as the Holdsworth and Barry Stern in Sydney, The Greenhill in Adelaide and with Russell Davis in Melbourne. He worked tirelessly and after many years had most selling avenues covered. His son kept meticulous records of which and where his works had been sent, from tourist shops to gallery exhibitions and most venues in between. His practise became so successful that he involved other members of the family in the process and continued to frame his own works. He was not selective or discriminatory with his clientele and framed for others as required.
John Cartwright is an important contributor to Australian art. He could be called an entry level artist, and without those who possess this distinct ability, the interest in art and art practices would not grow and develop in the general community. His paintings encourage people to look and buy.
There may be Australian collectors who have acquired works by Whiteley, Williams, Juniper or Smart and others more celebrated in institutional and academic circles. But in most instances this collecting interest has started with works by John Cartwright and those of his ilk.
These contributions to the development of Australian art should never be ignored or undervalued.