The subject of this work Camaret was once a thriving fishing village in Brittany with the harbour as bustling and energetic as this work illustrates – today it is a lot more serene. Friend was visiting the region in 1971 following a successful exhibition at Drouant Gallery in Paris and was charmed by the area. He decided to stay awhile to sketch the village and its surroundings in preparation for his next French show that was scheduled for 1973.
The paintings for that exhibition were finished at his studio in Bali where he was living in palatial splendour on prime waterfront property Sanur. He had built a grand house and created a splendid garden and the local Balinese referred to him as Tuan Rakshasa or Lord Devil – a title that pleased him.
Donald Friend was an exceptional talent and had flair with both pen and paint though it is through his paintings that he is better known. His drawing skills were exceptional and every mark on the paper is correct. What he intends to depict is what he achieves. The viewer in left in little doubt that this is the scene of a thriving fishing village full of activity and the painting is the work of a master who is endowed with an abundance of natural talent.
Failing health caused Friend’s return to Australia. He had lived in Bali for fourteen years after what was only intended to be a stopover. He was accorded a retrospective exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1990 but died a few months before it opened.
Camaret was exhibited in his 1973 exhibition that was once again held at the Drouant Gallery in Paris.
In 1954 The Western Mail sent their staff artist and often journalist Norman Aisbett up to Exmouth Gulf to report on the oil drilling and exploration in the region. The Rough Range No 1 Well had been sunk in 1953 and had been producing good quality oil in commercial quantities since. This development and the discovery of oil was being greeted with great excitement locally as it promised to herald a new era in Western Australia.
It was predicted that the state was set for an unprecedented boom, and the economic ill balance between the two seaboards would disappear. The tag Cinderella state that applied to the west, would finally be removed – no longer the poor relation to the more robust economies of the east.
When he arrived in Exmouth Aisbett had no experience of what awaited him. In addition to being one of the earliest journalists to visit the site, he was an arts pioneer as well, being one of the first contemporary painters to record the landscape and the surroundings of the Rough Range and the rugged country of the North West. He begun his newspaper article with a comment on the painting conditions,
Australia’s wild north is a paradise for painters – but you’ve got to be a pretty tough sort of painter to appreciate it.
I can’t imagine any of the more highly strung members of our fraternity emerging from it unscathed. A week in the Spinifex would turn Salvador Dali into a gibbering idiot.
He then went on to write, When you’re sitting under the boiling sun with a brush between your teeth you are ill equipped to defend yourself from unprovoked attacks by ants, mosquitoes and Kamakazi flies.
Aisbett had issues with the insects of the north – particularly the voracious ants. He presumed that Dali wouldn’t have been able to manage in a real setting that was suggestive of his imagined landscape.
This work Rough Range No. 1 Well was painted on that 1954 trip and is an important record in the development of Australia’s North West.
In his essay The Rough Range Oil Discovery – 50 Years On, published in the December 2003 – January 2004 Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia (PESA) newsletter Philip Playford wrote:
It was the Rough Range discovery that first pointed towards the rich potential of this area. That find was clearly an incredible fluke that has had a major impact on Western Australia and the nation as a whole. The enthusiasm generated by the discovery focussed national and international attention on the petroleum and mineral potential of this country, resulting in much exploration investment for a wide range of resources. It can truly be said that Rough Range was the forerunner to the petroleum and mineral developments that now form the backbone of Australia’s economy.
Rough Range No. 1 Well is a pioneering work of a pioneering era and as such is an important piece of contemporary history.
Even though he was the president of the Perth Society of Artists from 1951 to 1954 and associated with many local artists, Ernest Philpot considered himself to be a loner.
Loner or otherwise, he is an important figure in Western Australian art history and one of this state’s first exponents of pure abstraction. Crucifixion was painted in the mid 1950’s at the time when he was evolving from traditional landscape to pure abstraction. After becoming interested in the abstract image he found he was unable to make the complete leap to the non representational and dwelt for a while in a surreal/cubist phase. The works he produced during this brief period form and important part of his oeuvre.
In his book Ernest Philpot I am the artist he said on his transition from traditional to abstract, “Before plunging into the tide, I stuck in a tentative tow … I floated and swam until I reached the further solid shore of pure abstract imagery, and cannot leave it without scarring my artistic conscience.”
Crucifixion may have been painted for inclusion in the Blake Prize though there is no record of him sending it. Another of his works titled Crucifixion was a finalist in the 1956 Blake Prize.
Guy Grey-Smith returned from England in late 1947 having survived the shooting down of the aircraft of which he was the pilot, the associated injuries, four years as a prisoner of war and tuberculosis complicating it all. Yet he came back determined to advance modernism within Western Australian art. His first solo exhibition was held in 1949 and his third, in 1951, was held in Melbourne. Unequivocally, his aimwas to be seen – and judged – by a national audience.
Grey-Smith was good friends with Leslie and Bill Anderson who ran the Rottnest Island Hostel (subsequently known as the Lodge) from 1953 to 1960. Undoubtedly, then, he was a regular visitor to the island making sketched during his visits that he later used as the basis for a series of oil paintings. One of the Rottnest series – Longreach Bay (1954) – is held by the Art Gallery of Western Australia; another – Rottnest (1954-57) – sits in the collection of The University of Western Australia.
Of particular interest is that Grey-Smith and his family returned to England in September 1953 and did not head back to Perth until February 1955. Like the ground-breaking Longreach Bay, the work on offer is also dated 1954 and was almost certainly executed in England using sketches and notes taken from home. This perhaps explains some of the slightly unexpected features of the painting.
With trees as a typical reference in the foreground, Grey-Smith accurately depicts Rottnest’s low shrubbery using characteristic and spontaneously produced blocks of colour. The salt lake further identifies the location while the bright pink and crimson mid-ground probably reflects the influence on his art at the time of Matisse and Fauvism more generally.
Yet the horizon presents a deep blue, mountainous sky quite unlike Rottnest. For Grey-Smith, however, any perceived dissonance would have been little note as he was primarily concerned with self-expression through painting and note with literal reproduction of scenery. From the moment, while still a prisoner of war, that he saw an image of a Henry Moore sculpture and absorbed its modernist message – that art could and should reflect his own response to his environment – his paintings sought to describe that response rather than portray precisely what he had seen.
This striking painting is a rare and early example of Grey-Smiths oeuvre, heavily influenced as he was at that time by the works and philosophy of Cezanne but already confidently portraying his own unique artistic language.
Grey-Smith was a pivotal modernist influence in Western Australian art. He achieved early and sustained national recognition for his distinctive style. Without doubt, his works are amongst Western Australia’s most critically acclaimed and sought after. In March 2014, he will be the subject of a major and long overdue retrospective exhibition at the Art Gallery of Western Australia.
Along with Elise Blumann and Howard Taylor and, later, with other members of the so-called Perth Group (Robert Juniper, Brian McKay and Tom Gibbons) Guy Grey-Smith led the advancement of Western Australian art into its post-war future. He was awarded numerous prizes during his lifetime and his works are held in every major Australian Gallery and by every major Australian corporate collection. He is arguably Western Australia’s most influential artist. The current work is at once distinctive and evocative, beautiful and scarce.