James GLEESON
Australia, 1915-2008

Drawing No. 94, 2007
mixed media, charcoal and collage on paper
29.7 x 42.0 cm
inscribed lower left: Gleeson 15.10.07 #94

Exhibited
James Gleeson-recent drawings: a selection from April 2007 – April 2008, Watters Gallery, Sydney, 23 July - 16 August 2008, catalogue no.31

Drawing No.166, 2007
mixed media, charcoal and collage on paper
29.6 x 42.0 cm
Inscribed lower left: Gleeson. 1.12.07 #166

Exhibited
James Gleeson-recent drawings: a selection from April 2007 – April 2008, Watters Gallery, Sydney, 23 July - 16 August 2008, catalogue no.23

In the late 1970s Gleeson completed a series of highly finished drawings which included collage and extensive quotes from some of his favourite authors and artists, including Plato, John Donne, William Blake, Arthur Rimbaud, Max Ernst, Andre Breton and Italo Calvino. They were brought together in a 1993 publication under the title Signals from the perimeter: James Gleeson drawings and texts, which accompanied a travelling exhibition. On one work, Aim, 1978, he wrote, ‘Aim – to depict with absolute accuracy the things one can’t see.’ No one could better describe his work and its intention.

The extraordinary outpouring of work, drawings and paintings, that began in the early 1980s, continued until his death in 2008. When he could no longer paint between August 2007 and April 2008 Gleeson completed more than 300 drawings, none of which show any lessening of his powers, nor weakening of his imagination. They represent a remarkable dedication to making art that is unique in 20th century Australia.

Drawings No.94 and No.166, both completed towards the end of 2007, were exhibited in the last exhibition held at Watters Gallery during the artist’s lifetime. They exemplify two of the most commonly appearing images in this late work – an apocalyptic sky, and a figure coming towards the viewer. In No.94 Gleeson depicts what appears to be a sky inspired by images drawn from the exploration of outer space, and the creation, and destruction of stars. It shows the beginning of the world in some massive coming together of matter, or its destruction in one enormous bang! Star burst or black hole, it does not matter, an interpretation of the subject depends on your mood.

In No.166 an écorché, or flayed, horse runs out of a landscape towards the viewer lurching out of the picture plane. For many it will instantly conjure-up the Biblical idea of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelation, which represent pestilence, war, famine, and death. But it may also be derived from a more familiar source, that of the popular image of a galloping horse in Chinese painting.

In these drawings Gleeson demonstrates his great skill in the manipulation of media, combining washes of ink, pencil, charcoal, and conté, with collage drawn from a variety of sources. Occasionally it is difficult to determine where drawing stops and collage takes over.

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