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James Gleeson

Monday, 25th July, 2011

“Seaport” by James Gleeson, 1989. Oil on hardboard. 76.5cm x 60.8cm. Copyright courtesy of the Gleeson O’Keefe Foundation. “Seaport” by James Gleeson, 1989. Oil on hardboard. 76.5cm x 60.8cm. Copyright courtesy of the Gleeson O’Keefe Foundation.

James Gleeson has been an important Australian artist since, as a young man in the 1930s, he started investigating Surrealism. His is the most important body of surrealist work to be done by an Australian artist. 

Born in Hornsby, Sydney, in 1915 Gleeson went on to study art at East Sydney Technical College. He had a strong interest in surrealist art since the late 1930s and was interested in the theories of Freud and Jung. 

He travelled through Europe in 1947 and shared a studio with the artist Robert Klippel. Returning two years later he strove to give the surrealist movement in Australia an added momentum. 

As well as being a successful practising artist, Gleeson was an art critic who worked for a number of major newspapers and magazines, and produced a series of books on Australian art.

In the 1970s he began to make paintings that incorporated the genre of the Inscape or Psychoscapes, terms that refer to the depiction of an artist’s own psyche in the form of a landscape. 

This can be seen in the painting “Seaport”, which at first glance shows a port complete with boats and a marina, but on closer inspection resembles the melding of strange organic forms, a horned beast towering over it all.  

In 2006, Gleeson and his life partner, Frank O’Keefe, pledged their substantial assets to a foundation intended to help the Art Gallery of NSW acquire important works for the collection. O’Keefe died in 2007, and Gleeson in 2008 aged 92. 

Gleeson’s works can be found in the Australian National Gallery, all of the state galleries as well as in many regional galleries and private collections both here and overseas. 

“Seaport” was purchased by the Art Gallery Advisory Committee with the assistance of the Australia Council and the NSW Minister for the Arts in 1989.

 

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