Though better known for his pictures, Guy Grey-Smith’s painting technique evolved from his experience as a potter. The need to be physical in the creation of his paintings and the tactile quality of his finished surface owe their origins to the craft. His works in clay and paint could be described as having a refined-coarse quality, which is a description that is appropriated for the Australian landscape.
“Bay” is not a serene picture – it was never intended to be. It is a commanding picture using all the cleverness of the painter’s craft though tailored to his individual needs. Broad bands of colour, varying tones, craggy paint, energy in execution and simplified composition all mingle to make this work whole.
The title is simply “Bay” but to the knowledgeable observer it is identifiable as an Australian bay in the South of Western Australia where the coast is rugged but the temperature cool. It’s early morning, as the sun has not yet chased the dark from the West nor made the peninsula features distinct – the terrain blends into the sky.
Grey-Smith always acknowledged his debt to European masters and in the Art Gallery of WA Guy Grey-Smith retrospective catalogue of 1978 he was to say
“Cezanne was my first master”
“I found de Stael’s painting gave me an avenue of freer individual development – the simplification of form and the simpler movement of action.”
“Perhaps I appreciate even more how Rouault ticks. I feel that his controlled emotional strokes give not only life, vitality, movement but a controlled emotion – it’s vigorous and immediate.”
While his own admission other may have sewn the seed, Grey-Smith moulded their concepts to suit his needs and accommodate the tough Australian landscape. There’s a timeless quality to Grey-Smith’s work that have roots in the past and branches into the future.
He is one of the few that has successfully borrowed from Europe (Cezanne, Rouault, de Stael) and made the end result quintessentially Australian and unmistakably his own.