To those who don’t tickle the belly of the Australian public in search of popularity, success and importance in their field doesn’t always equate to financial safety.
Most of the work produced by the major non-figurative painters of the 50’s and 60’s was vilified in its time and continues to be overlooked by today’s art buying public. Many of those late career artists are still searching for an appreciation of their work that extends beyond that of the art institutions.
In the 1950’s abstract or non – conventional painting was an easy target for derision in Australia, and the public was encouraged to resist the international trends that were attracting the younger generations of painters.
As a response to abstraction, the Antipodean Manifesto was composed and the figurative was defiled as opposed to the abstract that was treated with misgiving.
The signatories to the Antipodean Manifesto became celebrated, as the art buying public rallied to the cause. They included Arthur and David Boyd, John Brack, Charles Blackman, Robert Dickerson, Clifton Pugh and John Perceval. It seemed that Australia should be a bastion of all that was perceived as wholesome in art and the new was to be treated as an aberration.
Abstraction was xenophobic to those that should have known better and in hindsight it could be claimed that the manifesto was a simply brilliant 1950’s marketing tool that is still in effect today. Lynn observed that it was the only conservative manifesto in history and it was an aggravation to he, John Coburn and others interested in the international trends.
From the 50’s through to the late 80’s, support for the abstractionist rarely extended beyond the institutions, so most of the bread winners influenced by international art trend had to seek alternate careers to provide for themselves and family.
Elwyn Lynn was from that generation and from that group of artists. In his early career his work was figurative and relatively conventional with a modernistic palette, but from the late 1950’s and onward, his direction altered and he was considered to be Australia’s foremost exponent of texture painting.
His images became abstract and his use of colour restrained. He was one of those artists that was nudging Australia into internationalism and outside of the institutions, Lynn’s work was not popular and received scant understanding.
Writer, teacher, administrator and critic are just a few of the hats that he wore during his long and outstanding career. When he wasn’t busy in those pursuits he was constantly satisfying his appetite for literature, devowering works by the world’s great writers, as well as the contents of any art publications that satisfied his need. Lynn was credited with an encyclopaedic knowledge of 20th century art.
He served as the chair of the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council and at different times performed the talk of art critic for the Bulletin, the Weekend Australian and the Sunday Mirror. He was curator of the Power Gallery of Contemporary Art for fourteen years and edited some of Australia’s more influential arts magazines including Art and Australia Quadrant.
For his services to the visual arts he received many accolades and was made a member of the Order of Australia in 1975. He was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Sydney in 1989 and an Emeritus award from the Australian Council in 1994.
As an artist the Art Gallery of New South Wales, holding a retrospective exhibition of his work in 1991 acknowledged his importance. He was awarded the Wynne Prize for Landscape painting in 1988, The Blake Prize in 1957, The Robin Hood Prize in 1961, The Trustees Watercolour Prize of the AGNSW in 1980 and 1983 and the University of NSW Purchase Prize in 1987. His biographical details are included in the standard reference books related to Australian art, and his work is included in the holdings of every major collecting institution throughout Australia.
Elwyn Lynn was one of the few people that was able to combine a successful career as an arts administrator without losing status as an important artist. And while it was the administrative career that provided for the family, it is through his art that his influence continues as he maintains a dialogue with this generation and those that will follow.
He has left for us many images, some with titles that puzzle and give us cause to engage the intellect and others that do not challenge at all. And even if we are unable to solve the riddle of the name, we can always feel comfortable in the presence of a solid inspirational work that contains a spirit, which only major artists can invoke.
We at GFL are pleased to present this exhibition of Elwyn Lynn’s work. It is history on display and the first time such a comprehensive collection has been seen in Western Australia since the Skinner Gallery show of 1971.
Exhibition from Friday 16th September until Friday 23rd September 2005
Source material: McCulloch’s Encyclopaedia of Australian Art Edition I, Elwyn Lynn Retrospective Catalogue, Peter Pinson; Australian Painting 1788-1970, Bernard Smith; Elwyn Lynn Metaphor + text, Peter Pinson.
Studies: No formal training in art; degree in Fine Art, Sydney University; Diploma of Education.
Awards: Blake Prize 1957; Mosman Prize 1957; Marrickville Prize 1961; Campbelltown Prize 1962; Muswell Brook Prize 1963; Wollongong Prize 1963 & 64; Royal Art Society Modern Prize 1965; Robin Hood Prize 1966; Member of Order of Australia 1975; Trustees Watercolour Prize AGNSW 1980 & 83; University of New South Wales Purchase Prize 1987; Wynne Prize 1988; Honorary Doctor of Letters University of Sydney 1989; Emeritus Award Australia Council 1994.
Represented: Art Gallery of NSW; Art Gallery of SA; Art Gallery of WA; Auckland City Art Gallery; National Gallery of Australia; National Gallery of Malaysia; National Gallery of Victoria; Parliament House Art Collection Canberra; Queen Victoria Museum And Art Gallery; Queensland Art Gallery, and numerous other university, regional and private collections throughout Australia.
Exhibitions: Over 200 group and solo exhibitions in Australia, England and Germany including; Museum of Modern Art Melbourne 1958, 1960 & 1963; Mid Career Retrospective Ivan Dougherty Gallery Sydney 1977; Retrospective Exhibition Art Gallery of NSW 1991; Opening of the Elwyn Lynn Conference Centre, University of NSW 1995; Elwyn Lynn Works 1969-1996 Nolan Gallery Canberra; Elwyn Lynn Works on Paper Charles Sturt University NSW 2004.
Author: Contemporary Drawing, Longman Melbourne 1962; Sidney Nolan Myth & Imagery, MacMillan London 1967, The Australian Landscape and its Artists, Bay Books Sydney 1977; Sidney Nolan – Australia, Bay Books Sydney 1979; Judy Cassab, Places, Faces and Fantasies, MacMillan Melbourne 1984; The Art of Robert Juniper, Craftsman House Sydney 1986.