Painting for me is a passion that does not go away and I anticipate that the crosses and clouds that appear regularly in my landscapes will continue to do so for sometime to come. There is no symbolism attached to these emblems – they are everywhere in the landscape and painting landscapes is what I do.
In the past I have been much more figurative than I am currently and if I was to change direction, in all probability it would be back to my figurative style. It may happen though I doubt it, as the landscape still has so much to offer.
Over the years I have drawn upon my experiences in Nigeria, Morocco, North Africa & Southern Europe and since arriving to teach in WA in 1970, have replaced these experiences with traveling to the North West of Australia. A region that has constantly enthralled and surprised me – it has been the catalyst for much of my work, whilst living in Perth.
Drawing has always been important as well, but for me it is not a constant necessity. There are periods where I often make numbers of drawings but mostly when traveling and my studio is not at hand. I have never been without my own studio, even when teaching.
My paintings are produced in the studio and I still enjoy the whole process of making them, working with oils, stretching and preparing my own canvases. I work for an hour or two each day, though currently there is a physical limit to what I can accomplish, as I am incapacitated through a recent motoring accident. Each brushstroke is a mental and physical dilemma as my restricted mobility forces me to plan each movement to get the effect I seek.
I have always had consideration for other work and artistic fashion, yet, do not feel artists currently in vogue have ever overly influenced me. Tapies, Bonnard, Matisse and de Stael I continue to admire but feel my own work has developed independently of their influence.
My creative energy is directly related to the barometric pressure. Today it is raining unremittingly and I can find no compulsion to paint whatsoever. If it were sunny and warm I should feel euphoric. I would feel the euphoric sense of well-being. It’s my 76th year and since I stopped teaching in the 80’s, I have had the wonderful privilege of painting for myself, spending my days reading and painting in a country environment and I hope to sustain this situation for the rest of my life.
If there’s a world record for the run down “The Mall” between Admiralty Arch and Backingham Palace, George Hayns probably holds it – at 3am on a summers morn, his borrowed motor bike (a Norton Dominator) hit a hundred miles per hour before he applied the breaks so the roundabout fronting the palace couldn’t claim him – “Breaking was the hard part,” he recalls. The year was 1962 and he was in London studying at the Chelsea School of Art.
That youthful act of bravura fits my opinion of Haynes’ attitude to painting – rules and laws are guides – if the need arises bend them. I’ve never shared this opinion with George and I’m uncertain how he would respond – but I know that he’s still having difficulty with his breaking.
During the mid 70’s following the closure of the Skinner Gallery, an auction of work by Contemporary Western Australian artists was held on a Saturday morning in the upstairs rooms of Gregsons the Auctioneers of Beaufort Street.
Gallery G the rooms were know as then, and local artists seeking to fill the void caused by Rose Skinner’s passing started it.
Haynes, Robert Juniper, David Gregson and a few others had entered works for sale – Interest was minimal and there were probably more sellers at the auction than buyers. Some of Haynes’ pictures were bid to as little as $50 that day and other painters didn’t fare any better either. Gallery G closed soon after, for reasons related to staffing.
George’s pictures came to my notice at that viewing. While I could readily identify work by others, his were different. There didn’t seem to be a common thread. No two pictures appeared the same, and I was continually referring to the gestetnered catalogue to discover whose work it was – time and time again the name George Haynes appeared.
Landscapes, nudes, street scenes, still life, interiors and abstract – all by him were packed into that room. His colour was unique and used in a non-conventional (to me) manner. Blue trees, red water, green nudes and purple chairs were the norm and occasionally there would be a small traditional landscape, just to add to the mix.
It was a tough sale and the auctioneer became a bit fractious, as piece after piece was reffered. And not being confident inmy judgement, the urge to acquire was quashed – so I left the auction Haynesless and a few others less as well. It was a day when a thousand dollars would have bought a lot and some major pieces could be had for a trifle – but the eye was new, the atmosphere dark, so the opportunity passed by.
The next time I saw Haynes work in volume, was again at auction – it was early 80’s and the PIFT theatre in Fremantle was the venue.
George was building a new studio and he had to sell some pictures to pay for it.
Auctions like these can often be the source of bargains and as confidence in my judgement was no longer an issue – to inspect those on offer was a must – I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass me by again.
Dazzling reds, subtle violet, luminous greens and glaring yellows were all there – blue nudes, green houses, pink boats and though the palette had a post impressionism feel, the texture didn’t – the images weren’t obviously distorted either, and all communal tastes seemed catered for. I circled at least twenty that I wanted.
Audience awareness was poles apart to the Gallery G experience. The viewing was strong and the interest was genuine.
George was present, talking, listening and explaining – I was amused by the artiness of it all.
Wine was plentiful but glasses were not and the waiters were sipping more than they were serving.
It was an enjoyable and different way to spend a Sunday afternoon in Perth in the 80’s – quite bohemian it seemed.
By the time the auction was due to start, the room was packed to standing room only. Bob Gregson was in charge, and before he commenced, a young lady in an interesting costume slithered out front and performed an exotic dance that was greeted politely in some areas, and enthusiastically in others – such was the diversity of the audience.
George’s friends were buoyant throughout though – and the noise from that corner became louder and louder as the day progressed. It all added to the atmosphere and probably explained the shortage of wine glasses.
From the beginning, bedding was brisk and some solid prices were paid. I waved my hand at everything I wanted and not till near the end was I able to land one – a little (almost) mono chromatic oil on panel titled Reabold Hill – it was unsigned, but that didn’t matter as the artist was to hand – I was doubly pleased as my Sunday hadn’t been a waste and I thought I’d secured one of the bargains of the day.
I was introduced to George following the auction and asked if he would sign the work “How much did you pay?” he inquired, “Two Hundred” I replied. “I could have sold that to Heindrick for four hundred” he said, “He wanted to buy it just recently and I didn’t want to sell.” He remonstrated with himself; mumbled something inaudible and signed the picture on the reverse. I never discovered who Heindrick was. I think I was supposed to know.
Twenty years passed before I met George again, though I kept in touch with his work through his retrospective, numerous exhibitions, auctions and ownership.
I have come to understand that George is a painter – often a sculptor and more recently an etcher.
He receives ideas from wherever he travels – understands the craft of his art – doesn’t create to satisfy market demand – is baffled at the correlation between title and saleability – has a strong work ethic and will not let an unresolved piece leave the studio.
George proclaims himself as the sole member world wide of the Illuminism Group of artists.
One maybe two hundred pictures pass me by every week, and whenever I see an interesting work in a semi-familiar manner I always ask for details of the author – invariably the reply is George Haynes – something different again – why do I continue to be surprised?
“All Art Aspires To The Condition of Music” is a Delphic phrase that I aspire to translate, to decipher.
As a painter I know that nothing can move one so pungently as music – and as I aspire to achieve something of that condition.
For me that something is in colour, and to explain what I mean, I will have to go back a bit.
For years and years I earned my living teaching and painting plein-air landscapes, and it is the landscape that has shaped my ideas on colour. As I say to the students, “When you are wondering how to mix up that colour, ask yourself first What tone is it – how light or dark? What is the warmth of the colour (how much yellow, how much blue)? And finally What colour is it? – oxide of chrome green with a touch of Mars violet maybe? Without the first two criteria being correct the colour will probably jump and jar. But on the other hand if you want to paint yon green tree red, if you get the tone spot on, and the temperature right, there is a good chance it might just work.”
For me this approach liberated colour. One can paint yon cottage and tractor shed in pink and grey or, if you so choose, ochre and violet, if the tones and temperatures are right they will cohere, but have a vastly different emotional charge. Ones colours may be loud bright and clear – Luxe et Volupte (primary blue and yellow maybe) Or melancholy (how sombre is indigo with umber) All moods are expressible with different colour combinations. In fact I think the pleasure of seeing colours reacting to one and other is very similar to the aural pleasure one can get from juxtaposed sounds.
Then there is the application-this is how the colours meet one another. Van Gogh’s percussive chunky brush strokes mean something quite different to the soft edges, the glissando of wipe-it-again-Sam (Fullbrook) even though the colours may be the same.
Then there is the composition – how to hold all this together on a rectangle etc.
But that is enough for the moment.
All these factors take time. There is so much balancing of tone, temperature and chroma, that at the very least (my personal record) a month to complete a picture. I enjoy the slog of these paintings, it allows me to pack a lot into them. Because of my slow production, I have to sell paintings as I go and this show at GFL contains a lot of work that has been sold over the last few years.
This is my first show in a public gallery after an absence of eight years. It has been so long that I am occasionally asked “Are you still painting?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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