Auction Highlight Spring 2014 Guy Grey-Smith

“I found de Stael’s painting gave me an avenue of freer individual development – the simplification of form and the simpler movement of action … on a canvas.”

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Lot 62 Guy Grey-Smith – Figure on the Beach

As the 1950’s came to an end, Guy Grey-Smith had already established himself as Western Australia’s leading modernist painter and an artist with an emerging national profile. His impressionist style and bold, Fauvist use of colour were already clearly recognisable and undeniably popular. Yet, at this same time, he was drawn to the distinctive, impasto style of the Russian-born, French artist Nicolas de Stael whose impact on European art had been cut short in 1955 by his suicide at the age of 41.

At first, Grey-Smith struggled to find the optimal balance between the figurative and the abstract with this technique. But his assured use of colour and the inspiration he drew from the Western Australian landscape ultimately proved ideal when applying the thick, geometric slabs of oil and bees wax emulsion that characterised his new work.

By 1962, he had settled into the style in which he was at his most confident and composed, and for which he would ultimately be most widely acclaimed. His works of the mid-1960’s remains his most emblematic and sought after. Figure on the Beach (1966) exhibits the cardinal elements of this important period in Grey-Smith’s artistic life.

The clearly defined, rectangular slabs of paint are divided into four quadrants by the abstract yet plainly recognisable object of the painting. There is no intention to identify this individual; rather the central figure serves primarily to draw our attention to the landscape itself and to provide a focal point around which the slabs of colour compete and combine. The horizon is drawn  in thick, purple paint providing depth and orientation; the intensity of the blues and turquoise to one side and the mauves to the other reminds us of Grey-Smiths abiding passion for facility with colour.

A similar though smaller work “Figure (on the beach) 1965) is featured in Andrew Gaynor’s biography of the artist¹. That work employs similar and more symmetric slabs of paler colours, evoking bleaching effect of the intense mid-summer light. In re-visiting that theme just one year later, Grey-Smith creates a more complex and dynamic work, rounding off what was undeniably the best period of his career.

Figure on the Beach (1966) is an outstanding and archetypal example of Grey-Smith’s finest works. It exudes the confidence that the artist felt in this style and medium and reminds us of why he remains one of Western Australia’s most nationally regarded and critically acclaimed artists.

Michael Levitt

¹ Guy Grey-Smith: Life Force, Andrew Gaynor, UWA Publishing 2012.

Auction Highlight Spring 2014 Robert Juniper

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Lot 61 Robert Juniper – King of the Hill Mine

King of the Hill Mine is archetypal of Robert Juniper in the 1980’s. By this time the artist had firmly settled into his mature style and behind him was over 30 years of an artistic career that heralded an intrinsic relationship with the West Australian outback.

Juniper’s early childhood was spent in the WA bush, firstly Merridin, before his family travelled alongside their father who was contracted as a construction worker on the C. Y. O’Connor pipeline. It was in the rugged bushlands east of Perth that Juniper first experienced the magnitude and isolation of the WA landscape.

Dissatisfied with the opportunities at the time the family relocated back to England where he was eventually enrolled in the Beckenham School of Art in Kent. It was here that the young artist was introduced to a background in art that was to shape the rest of his career.

Returning to WA as a young man in 1950 Juniper’s relationship with the landscape was slowly reignited, this time, his mind brimming with the aesthetics of contemporary European Modernists, in particular Paul Nash, Paul Klee and John Piper.

Perth’s art scene was burgeoning in the 50’s and it was during this time that Juniper was taken under the wing of John Lunghi and encouraged in his artistic endeavours. He worked alongside contemporaries the likes of Sam Fullbrook, Guy Grey-Smith, Brian McKay and Tom Gibbons. There was a significant artistic movement emerging with a distinctly Western Australian identity.

Juniper’s relationship with and ability to construct the West Australian landscape is unparalleled. With the aid of his European schooling Juniper brought about a new vision of the West. Abstract and expressionist in design, his evocation of the colours, character and magnitude of the landscape captured not only the environment itself but the essence of it, a spirit uniquely West Australian.

The earthy tones and celestial hues of the WA landscape are synonymous in junipers pallet, often employing the ionic reds of the desert or the dusky blues of the isolated sun setting over the impossibly vast and quieting landscape. The light and colour of the sun playing off of the landscape was an integral part of his work.

We see this in King of the Hill Mine as the radiating earth from a midday sun emanates around the sinking shadow of the mine. While a figure and his ridgeback dog levitate in the sheer scale of this isolated scene. A memory of Juniper’s re-imagined on canvas. “His paintings were to express in an involved and personal language, a pattern of ideas and memories; the haunting remoteness of Western Australian landscape, timelessness and ageless composites.”¹

A characteristic of Juniper’s work reflected in this piece is that it functions both from a distance and at the most intimate viewing.²

This monumental image of the ethereal WA landscape captures its awe while reflecting humbly on it. A painting with a distinctively West Australian attitude for its time – an inclination away from the pastoral heritage of WA towards a deep appreciation and respect for the ground itself and what lays beneath it³ – a motive that is still prevalent today.

Olivia Gardner

 

¹Lynn, E. (1986). The Art of Robert Juniper. Seaforth: Craftsman House. p12.
² ³Fry, G. (2009). Robert Juniper. Sydney: The Beagle Press. p64, p69
Thomas, L. (1976) The Most Noble Art Of Them All. Brisbane: University of Queensland Press.

Auction Highlight Spring 2014 Annie J Campbell

This sketch of a Kimberley native on Rottnest Island in 1897 weaves an intricate story of life in Western Australia in the late 19th century. Not only is this image indicative of life as a prisoner on Rottnest Island at the time, it also incited the story of its artist Annie Jane Hope Campbell, a young and single Irishwoman travelling the arid countryside.

Little record is maintained of the artist in question; however, she was referred to in her lifetime as a model for young Australian females interested in pursuing a career in illustration. Before she arrived in WA Annie Campbell recieved a Masters Certificate from the Royal College of Art, London. It is believed she had contacts in WA and family in Melbourne.

Annie Campbell traversed the state from Kalgoorlie to the Kimberly and is noted in varying publications across the country for her illustrations and contributions. In 1916 she won a national recruitment poster prize among hundreds of entrants for her poster “Come Lads; Give Us a Spell” signed and submitted under the pseudonym ‘Boz’, initially believed to be a man until Cambell later revealed herself as the winning artist, much to the surprise and amusement of the public. She continued to contribute numerous posters to society during the interwar years while living in Melbourne.

During this time Annie Campbell was a distinguished member of the Melbourne Lyceum Club, a club for female graduates and other women who have gained notoriety for their contributions to the arts, philanthropy and public service. She remained a member until her untimely death in 1920.

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Lot 57 Annie J Campbell – Sketch of a Kimberley Native – Rottnest WA

Sketch of a Kimberley Native by the enigmatic young Annie Campbell offers a unique perspective of WA, particularly that of the contentious conditions for young indigenous men on Wadjemup – or as contemporary Western Australians fondly know it to be – the popular holiday destination Rottnest Island.

Written historical recollections at times contradict the popular understanding of conditions of the Rottnest Island Penal Colony. Indeed there were grim times of hard labour and poor nourishment at the beginning; however, that changed following the forced retirement of the initial and imperious Superintendent Henry Vincent in 1967. Later, life on the island became endurable as sanitation, work and learning conditions improved.

An interesting recollection published in The Sunday Times,  Perth  (November 29, 1936) by Major L. C. Timperley, who lived on the island as a boy during his father’s term as Superintendent, indicated that prisoners were well cared for and allowed to practice hunting and coroborees outside of work hours – the island functioned as it was initially intended – allowing rehabilitation and less confined imprisonment for the indigenous convicts.

Annie Campbell’s sketch is a rare document and subtle testimonial to these conditions, unlike the stiff and austere nature of photographs of the era, Campbell’s sketch allows the subject to relax into his true character which renders a more didactic and humble impression of the environment. As we can see, the prisoner is well clothed and in general health. There is, however, no overlooking the disgruntled and longing state towards the mainland in the defiant face of the subject.

Olivia Gardner

 

Works Cited

Chapman, B. (1979). The Colonial Eye. Perth: The Art Gallery of Western Australia.
Green, N. (1997). Far From Home. Perth: University of Western Australia Press.
Nimitybelle. (1916, January 6). Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic. : 1885-1939).
Timperley, M. L. (1963, November 29). Sunday Times Perth (WA:1902-1954).

 

Auction Highlight Spring 2014 Thomas Walkley

Thomas Walkley is an enigmatic type who appears to have wandered across Australia earning his keep through his artwork. His presence is mainly recorded through his images of Adelaide, Melbourne and Perth.

Arriving in Western Australia around 1890 as with many others he found his way to the goldfields in pursuit of his fortune but he took work as the scenic artist at the Trivoli Theatre in Kalgoorlie. His work was highly acclaimed in newspaper reviews though none of those pieces are known to remain.

In 1897 The Kalgoorlie Miner announced Mr Thomas Walkley, the scenic artist, has just finished a beautiful scene, representing the Lake of Killarney, and is now busily engaged on another work to represent a view of the famous Gippsland country, showing its picturesque mountains, etc. and again

… there will be shown for the first time, a new scene by the Tivoli artist Mr Thomas Walkley on which he has been engaged for some time. it is a valuable addition to the stock already laid in by the management and depicts an evening view of the Gippsland Mountains with the Baw Baw Ranges in the distance. The dimensions of the work were 25 feet wide by 14 feet in depth.

Walkley led a colourful life on the goldfields and appeared in the courts on a few occasions as both victim and offender. On one occasion he was robbed of £2 while asleep in a laneway behind the York Hotel, on another he was placed on the prohibited list from entering licensed premises for 6 months, and again in Leonora he had the choice of a £1 fine or seven days in the lockup for disorderly conduct. His punishment was not disclosed in the newspaper report of the time.

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Lot 51 Thomas Walkley – End of the Day Perth Quarry

This a panting of the jetty near the Mount Eliza quarry is a faithful record of the time and is one of the few images of the part of the workings of the quarry on record. The jetty is stacked with broken stone that is awaiting transport for use in road repairs in the city. An unattended barge used to transport the stone is empty and waiting its next load. Horses finish their toil and are led away by their handler and rather than two abreast they are single file due to the width of the jetty.

Walkley chose to record the scene at the end of the day as work winds down and night approaches. It is a tranquil scene and has been romanticised with the sun shrinking in the western sky and a lad waiting for his father to finish work and begin their trek home.

The Mount Eliza quarry ceased production by 1892 though the exact date is not recorded in a letter to the editor of the Western Mail in the same year an anonymous resident of 26 years referred to the Mount Eliza quarry closure in the following manner – It is only known to a few that the good hard bed of stone was discontinued being quarried under Mount Eliza because of the large quantities of useless debris on top of the stone. The correspondent then went on to suggest that Mounts Bay be reclaimed using the debris from the Mount Eliza quarry and a water playground be built with canals, ponds, lakes and ornamental bridges. The public works department never acted upon the recommendation but it is confirmation that ideas for improvements to the river front have been around since early days of settlement.