Modern Pioneer Elwyn Lynn Works 1957-1990

1. Elwyn Lynn - Table and Lemons 1957
1. Elwyn Lynn – Table and Lemons 1957

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.

6. Elwyn Lynn - Delta 1963
6. Elwyn Lynn – Delta 1963

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.

22. Elwyn Lynn - Mining 1982
22. Elwyn Lynn – Mining 1982

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.

11. Elwyn Lynn - Oval Altar 1968
11. Elwyn Lynn – Oval Altar 1968

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.

Masterworks from Yesteryear Responsibility and Right

“After sunset twas a silver ocean tonight. All people have to wait for the tram & I came down slowly in the dusk & close to me watching also was a little girl about 10, sitting on the sand. So still. I stood awhile thinking of her and the great spread of water. And I felt very much inclined to take this dear little creature in my arms and kiss her, sit down next to her. So innocent & who may some day become a fine woman. She may be powerful like this broad water some day. I watched with happy interest all this delight that men can’t sell to you – she got up fastened on her boots & went slowly after the other people. I watched her affectionately & then then the large pale moon on the rollers – Oh what a lot we enjoy & how good everything is. -The tram full of women and children, onle little boy on my knee. Workmen in the smoko two convent women also.” (Arthur Streeton in a letter to Tom Roberts c. April 1890. Letters from Smike, edited by Ann Galbally and Anne Gray, published by Oxford University Press Australia).

If Sir Arthur Streeton had sent this letter today, he would probably recieve a visit from the authorities and have his details recorded on some international database as a person of doubtful character. Today, society would probably look upon these thought as those of a disturbed person with unhealthy tendencies. But nothing could be further from the truth. This extract from Streeton’s letter was composed in an Australia that had values and beliefs vastly different to the one we know today.

If we were to generalise we could say that in Streeton’s times society seemed to focus more upon responsibility of the individual as opposed to the rights of the individual. Those times seemed to be more innocent than those of today. But the same couldn’t be said of the art that was made. It was built on centuries of tradition, hence the tag traditional that applies to much of it now. The art from Streeton’s era was steeped in craft. Discipline was important and individuality was restricted until the academic education was completed. And even though some may have exhibited an extraordinary talent, that talent was restrained during the instructive years and encouraged to develop in the privacy of the working artist’s studio.

CORFE CASTLE 9723
9. Arthur Ernest Streeton (1867-1937) – Corfe Castle

These works are direct and are easy to understand and the artist’s skill is on show to be admired and envied. Contrary to much of the work made today the pictures on show in the Masterworks of Yesteryear exhibition do not require the services of an interpreter to convince us of their greatness, as the artist viewed that as his responsibility. And even though much contemporary criticism in Australia treats the art from this era as passé, it is our right to disagree with that opinion and enjoy these works for the quality they exhibit.

Today there is a tendency to ignore the craft of art and to reduce the instructive period. There is a tendency to rush into the market placewith something new and differenjt, no matter how bizarre. Dicipline, hard work and endeavour seem to have been replaced by fad, opportunity and urgency, doused with a liberal quantity of promotion. There seems to be more self taught artists practising now than there are that have been academically trained and one wonders which of today’s practitioners will stand the test of time.

All of the artists included in this exhibition have stood the test of time, and feature prominently in the standard reference material related to the history of Australian art. Each of the artists is represented by a significant work that is well crafted and exhibits the individuality for which they achieved their place in history.

 

Exhibition from Wednesday 25 August until Tuesday 14 September 2004