Auction Highlight Spring 2011 Ernest Sidney Philpot

Lot 58 Ernest Sidney Philpot – Painting in Action

The term “Action Painting” was coined by New York art critic Harold Rosenberg in 1952 to describe certain works of art by key members of the New York school of abstract expressionism. Foremost amongst these artists was Jackson Pollock whose self-described “drip” paintings had been breaking new ground since about 1947.

What made these works so unique was their emphasis upon the act of process of painting rather than upon the actual work itself. They were not meant to portray objects or even emotions but by virtue of their seemingly unpremeditated creation, came to be regarded as representations of the artist’s subconscious.

Against both the critical and commercial grain of Australian art in the mid 1950’s, Earnest Philpot broke away from his established and strictly figurative style to introduce distinctly abstract imagery into his works. This rapidly transformed into his own particular style of abstract expressionism, which, in a bold move, he exhibited in London in 1960. Most of the works from this exhibition were described as “action paintings”[1]

In Painting in Action (1960) Philpot exhibits a lyrical and free-flowing style that brings to mind dance-like imagery of Pollock’s Summertime Number 9A (1948) and his monumental Number 1, 1952 (1952).[2] Like the abstract expressionists, Philpot was also looking for a sublime, unpremeditated outcome. Unlike Pollock and the New York school as a whole, however, Philpot sought not to express subconscious human thought but to somehow create a more universal image, an evocation of the very meaning and purpose of life. The cloud-like form bordered by the swirling, dancing lines in Painting in Action reflects his ineffable, almost spiritual objective.

Painting in Action is a dynamic, rhythmic work art. It’s evident technical precision does not detract art. He believed deeply in the emancipating power of abstract art – for him, it brought him closer to what he saw as a universal truth. The images he produced transcended their individual component materials and their aesthetic impact in their endeavour to explore and express something truly profound, not merely to record people, places or events. Philpot did not seek to mirror society but to actually guide it, most especially through contemplation of the abstract image, towards a deeper understanding of self and life.

As Philpot has so powerfully written, “Such in the raison d’etre of art, not to be a depicter of mini-truths but an imagiser of the Great Truth.”[1] In this context, especially, Painting in Action represents a singular step in Philpot’s almost career-long pursuit of truth and meaning, expressed through the medium of the painted image.



[1] Valerie, F. (2008). Earnest Philpot: I am the artist.

[2] Emmering, L. (2003). Pollock. Taschen.



Auction Highlight Spring 2011 George Frederick Harris

A Welsh portrait painter George Frederick Harris with his family arrived in Western Australia in 1920. He soon realised that Perth would not provide enough commissions to provide for his children, so in 1922 he moved most of the family to Sydney.

George Harris  was the father of Pixie O’Harris and the grandfather of Rolf Harris and at one time served as the chairman of the Royal Art Society Cardiff.

Statham’s Quarry Gooseberry Hill, the subject of this painting, was established in 1894 by Thomas Statham and William Burton. The quarry provided the materials for much of Perth’s roads and following Statham’s death in 1920 the quarry was owned and operated by the Perth City Council. The quarry ceased operation in 1949 and is now used for recreational purposes.

This social realist work by Harris depicting men at work beneath the intense summer sun is unusual for its time. The tendency for artists of the period was to paint idyllic images of the landscape and ignore the reality of everyday toil.

Through this picture Harris has shown his ability to quickly come to terms with the Australian light and landscape. He has also provided a small vignette of the quarrymen’s day and the tasks they had to perform with the facilities available to them.

Lot 38 George Frederick Harris – Stathams Quarry Gooseberry Hill

Auction Highlight Spring 2011 Elwyn Lynn (1917-1997)

“The traces of time are all around us and they have little effect on our senses that is, until it becomes time to paint the house.”

Lot 23 Elwyn Augustus Lynn – Curve on White

When he saw the work of the European artists Antonio Tapies and Emil Schumaker in 1958 Lynn’s eyes were opened to the visual excitement that time and the elements can induce. He was touring Europe and had seen their paintings at the Venice Biennale and was astounded that the weathering effect on ordinary everyday items could be the subject for sublime works of art.

He became an immediate enthusiast for textural paintings and was eager to explore the possibilities of this new form of expression and how it could relate to Australia with all its variables.

Texture painting fitted perfectly into the Australian artistic oeuvre, but intellectually in the 50’s it was astray. Australia was isolated and not ready for abstraction – it was viewed as an international conspiracy. The influence of the traditional and modern figurative painters was in power and difficult to dislodge. Lynn viewed this disinterest as a challenge and in addition to creating visually uplifting works he applied an intellectual component and titled his works accordingly.

He trusted that the viewer, after digesting the visual and tactile elements, would search for the meaning of the title and understand how the piece fitted the name – unfortunately his trust was vain. Very few rose to the challenge and visually his work failed to interest those outside of the major collecting institutions. From the intellectual viewpoint very few bothered to accept the test.

Lynn provided for his family through teaching, writing and critiquing, and every spare moment saw him at work in his studio persisting and finding satisfaction on his output. He never lost confidence in his direction and persevered until the end. He knew that his position in Australian Art History could not be undone and the time for wider appeal of his work would arrive.

Through technology the world has taken on village proportions and abstraction has emerged in Australia. The worldlier and younger brigade of collectors and enthusiasts are comfortable with Lynn’s images and are often surprised that Australian works of this type are nearly 60 years old.

The public has finally caught up with him. Today the visual and tactile elements are stimulating the viewers and the challenge of the title is at last being accepted. There is a new appreciation for his pictures.