Alun Leach-Jones painter_ printmaker_ sculptor by gdf57j

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									       First published in Australian Art Collector,
       Issue 37 July-September 2006




Alun Leach-Jones:                                     RECOGNISED AS ONE OF

                                                                                                                            A
                                                                                                                                    lun Leach-Jones was born in Lancashire in 1937. His father, a Welsh country
                                                      AUSTRALIA’S LEADING ABSTRACT                                                  schoolmaster, had little sympathy for art, although a favourite uncle encour-

painter, printmaker, sculptor                         COLOUR PAINTERS AND
                                                      INCLUDED IN THE FAMOUS 1968
                                                                                                                                    aged the nine year-old boy to draw. He passed his childhood in a village in
                                                                                                                            Northern Wales until 1949, when his family moved to Liverpool.
                                                                                                                               In 1951, aged only 14 and a half, Leach-Jones began a three year apprenticeship as
                                                      THE FIELD EXHIBITION, ALUN                                            a painter of illuminated manuscripts with the Solicitors Law Stationery Society
                                                      LEACH-JONES STARTED HIS ART                                           Limited in Liverpool. Here, he worked in the midst of a row of fellow illuminators,
                                                                                                                            perched on a stool, leaning over a Dickensian sloping desk. It was exacting work,
                                                      LIFE AS AN ILLUMINATOR IN                                             requiring an immaculate painting technique, but it was a discipline that required
                                                      LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND. FIVE                                              considerable invention and could accommodate soaring flights of fantasy.
                                                      DECADES LATER, LIVING AND                                                Typically an illumination would begin with a capital letter, put down as a shape.
                                                                                                                            Then the elaborations would commence. A letter D might be accompanied by
                                                      WORKING IN SYDNEY, HIS                                                images of devils or demons, or by shapes that echoed or contested the curves of the
                                                      CANVASSES STILL CARRY MANY                                            D. Decorative elements would be squeezed into the interstices. Three-dimensional
                                                      OF THE FORMAL AND FANCIFUL                                            forms would play against flat shapes. Flamboyant arabesques would contrast with
                                                                                                                            neatly ruled columns. The palette tended to be of sumptuous colours, pitted bright-
                                                      CHARACTERISTICS OF THOSE                                              ly against one another. Leach-Jones patiently mastered the precision required for
                                                      EARLY ILLUMINATIONS. STORY BY                                         illumination, and excelled at the opportunities for invention and elaboration.
                                                      PETER PINSON. PHOTOGRAPHY                                                In 1958, his work at the Solicitors Law Stationery Society Limited was interrupted
                                                                                                                            by National Service obligations which took him to West Germany as part of the
                                                      BY STEPHEN OXENBURY.                                                  British Army of the Rhine. He returned to his desk in 1959 but was dismayed to find
                                                                                                                            that his craft was being increasingly supplanted by technology. The allure of illumi-
                                                                                                                            nating had for him become hopelessly compromised. He recognised that it was a
                                                                                                                            discipline whose days were numbered. It was time for a fresh start.
                                                                                                                               In 1960 he migrated to Australia and began to study art part-time at the South
                                                                                                                            Australian School of Art. He soon came to the view that his work with illumination
                                                                                                                            had been a “wonderful training” for a fine artist, especially for an artist whose inter-
                                                                                                                            ests lay in colour and in abstract composition. The characteristics of his
                                                                                                                            illuminations – clean edges, intense colours, carefully considered arrangements of
                                                                                                                            shape, and the play between flatness and three-dimensional forms – became the




                                                      Alun Leach-Jones, The Traveller, 1985. Acrylic on canvas, 152 x
                                                      173cm. COLLECTION AND COURTESY: THE SOLOMON R GUGGENHEIM, NEW YORK.



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              First published in Australian Art Collector,
              Issue 37 July-September 2006




                                                                                                                                                                                                                        This page: Alun Leach-Jones, The Fountain, 2002. Acrylic on
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        canvas, 168 x 183cm. COURTESY: THE ARTIST AND HEISER GALLERY, BRISBANE.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Opposite page: Alun Leach-Jones, The Dark Mirror, 2004. Acrylic on
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        canvas, 123 x 127cm. COURTESY: THE ARTIST AND HEISER GALLERY, BRISBANE.


                                                                                                                             characteristics of his paintings.
                                                                                                                                By the mid 1960s, aged about 30, he was working on his Noumenon series which
                                                                                                                             swiftly established and sealed his reputation as one of Australia’s leading abstract
                                                                                                                             colour painters. He participated in The Field exhibition which opened the newly built
                                                                                                                             National Gallery of Victoria in 1968. This exhibition, which included the work of
                                                                                                                             Sydney Ball, Col Jordan, David Aspen and Peter Booth, focused on those artists
                                                                                                                             who had emerged over the previous few years with work that was precisely calculat-
                                                                                                                             ed, abstract, and overwhelmingly concerned with flat, aggressive colour
                                                                                                                             relationships. These were the characteristics that would underpin and nourish
                                                                                                                             Leach-Jones’s work for the next four decades.
                                                                                                                                Leach-Jones also established a formidable reputation as a printmaker, working
                                                                                                                             with master printmakers including Larry Rawling, Diana Davidson and Michelle
                                                                                                                             Perry. Silk screen printing was the perfect medium for dealing with his interest in flat
                                                                                                                             areas of colour, but he has also worked in lithography, etching and lino cuts. He has
                                                                                                                             completed well in excess of 150 editions of prints in his career. One of his notable
                                                                                                                             silk screen prints employed 73 different colours, which was considered to be a world
                                                                                                                             record for a silk screen print by a major artist.
                                                                                                                                While Leach-Jones is best known for his paintings, drawings and prints, he has
                                                                                                                             also been making small bronze sculptures over the last 18 years. In the early 1970s,
                                                                                                                             prominent Melbourne sculptor Lenton Parr had foreseen how well Leach-Jones’s
                                                                                                                             capacity to invent and arrange shapes could be expressed in sculpture, but at that
                                                                                                                             time Leach-Jones was unconvinced. Years later, in 1988, Robert Klippel visited
                                                                                                                             Leach-Jones’s studio. He noticed a small three-dimensional arrangement made from
                                                                                                                             thin sheets of balsa wood. Leach-Jones had constructed it to explore and clarify
                                                                                                                             some compositional issues he was contending with in a painting.
                                                                                                                                “Let me have a cast of this made,” Klippel requested. Leach-Jones dubiously con-
  Leach-Jones patiently mastered the precision required for illumination, and excelled at the                                sented. When Klippel returned with the balsa cast in bronze, Leach-Jones was
                                                                                                                             astonished. To his surprise, it successfully retained the same skirmishing of con-
  opportunities for invention and elaboration.                                                                               tending shapes that was at the heart of his paintings. Moreover, the abstract


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             First published in Australian Art Collector,
             Issue 37 July-September 2006




                                                                                                                          arrangements unfurled unpredictably as one walked around the piece, like the             This page: Alun Leach-Jones, Red Skye at Night -
                                                                                                                          unravelling narrative of some picaresque novel. Lenton Parr had been right.              Shepherd’s Delight, 2001. Acrylic on canvas, 122 x 183cm
                                                                                                                                                                                                                   COURTESY: THE ARTIST AND HEISER GALLERY, BRISBANE.
                                                                                                                             Unlike Klippel, whose assemblages were made from components that had been
                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Opposite page: Alun Leach-Jones, The Golden Bowl,
                                                                                                                          found or acquired, Leach-Jones has pieces of timber cut and shaped to his precise        2003. Acrylic on canvas, 168 x 183cm. COURTESY: THE ARTIST
                                                                                                                          instructions, and he then sets about positioning them together with the same fas-        AND HEISER GALLERY, BRISBANE.

                                                                                                                          tidious precision he employs in his paintings. There is nothing two-dimensional or
                                                                                                                          bas-relief-like about these sculptures; they are not “painter’s sculptures”. They are
                                                                                                                          domestic in size – typically only about 35 cms high – yet they possess a sense of
                                                                                                                          scale; there is something epic about them.
                                                                                                                             Alun Leach-Jones’s work may be viewed in all the State Galleries, which have col-
                                                                                                                          lected many of his largest paintings. He is represented by Rex Irwin Art Dealer in
                                                                                                                          Sydney, by BMGART in Adelaide, and by the Bruce Heiser Gallery in Brisbane.
                                                                                                                          Although he has commanded a firm following among private collectors since the
                                                                                                                          mid-1960s, his paintings appear at auctions only infrequently. Leach-Jones is him-
                                                                                                                          self at a loss to explain this phenomenon (other than taking the obvious and
                                                                                                                          flattering inference that owners are reluctant to trade away his work). Collectors
                                                                                                                          wishing to acquire one of his works at auction would need to be particularly patient.
                                                                                                                          On the other hand, Leach-Jones’s paintings are remarkably consistent in quality
                                                                                                                          (unlike, say, the paintings of Sidney Nolan and Charles Blackman), and a work being
                                                                                                                          offered in an auction is not likely to be inferior to works available through dealers.
                                                                                                                             Flawless and immaculate surfaces are an important dimension of Leach-Jones’s
                                                                                                                          paintings. Initial purchasers are generally required to contract to return to him any
                                                                                                                          painting which has sustained damage, to allow him to undertake the restoration. He
  “Let me have a cast of this made,” Klippel requested. Leach-Jones dubiously consented.                                  would normally undertake such reparation without charge.
  When Klippel returned with the balsa cast in bronze, Leach-Jones was astonished.                                           Alun Leach-Jones has been the subject of an impressively extensive bibliography.
                                                                                                                          The major book is the Craftsman House monograph published in 1988, written by


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              First published in Australian Art Collector,
              Issue 37 July-September 2006




                                                                                                                                                                                                                            This page: Alun Leach-Jones, A Midsummer Night’s Dream,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                            2003. Acrylic on Canvas, 168 x 213cm. COURTESY: REX IRWIN ART
                                                                                                                                                                                                                            DEALER, SYDNEY. PRIVATE COLLECTION.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Opposite page: Alun Leach-Jones, The Country Beyond
                                                                                                                                                                                                                            the Stars, 2005. Acrylic on canvas, 168 x 183cm.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                            COURTESY: THE ARTIST AND HEISER GALLERY BRISBANE.



                                                                                                                               his poet friend Robert Gray, Graeme Sturgeon (who had been the initial Director of
                                                                                                                               Artbank) and Christopher Gentle (the inaugural Director of Sydney’s Ivan
                                                                                                                               Dougherty Gallery). This monograph was republished in an expanded edition in
                                                                                                                               1995. An unusually large number of substantial and detailed catalogues have
                                                                                                                               accompanied his solo exhibitions, generally with serious and penetrating essays.
                                                                                                                               His paintings and prints have been the subject of six mid-career Survey exhibitions
                                                                                                                               in Australian institutional galleries, and at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery and Museum
                                                                                                                               in Swansea, Wales.
                                                                                                                                  Leach-Jones’s coming exhibition in Brisbane is titled The Plain Sense of Things after
                                                                                                                               a poem by Wallace Stevens (1878-1955). Stevens was an American poet whose work
                                                                                                                               Leach-Jones admires. Something of Stevens’s melancholy is echoed in the sombre
                                                                                                                               blacks of Leach-Jones’s paintings, in the passages of claustrophobically compressed
                                                                                                                               forms, and in the motifs which obliquely hint at their sources: a pair of spectacles on
                                                                                                                               a surgeon’s operating dish, or an amputation saw, or a labourer’s cripplingly heavy
                                                                                                                               tool of trade. However, Leach-Jones’s allusions to life’s miseries are more than offset
                                                                                                                               by his glorious colours which bustle and pulsate with the resounding exaltation of a
                                                                                                                               Chartres window.
                                                                                                                                  Alun Leach-Jones owns an extensive collection of volumes of poetry. Geoffrey
                                                                                                                               Dutton described it as one of the best private collections of books of poetry in
                                                                                                                               Australia. It is not surprising that he admired the poetry of Wallace Stevens, whose
                                                                                                                               work has been described as “enigmatic, elegant, intelligent” with “occasionally star-
                                                                                                                               tling meditations on order and the imagination, on reality, appearance and art”. After
                                                                                                                               all, that description applies equally aptly to his own work. Nor is it surprising that he
                                                                                                                               was delighted when Peter Goldsworthy said, when opening his recent exhibition in
                                                                                                                               Adelaide: “You’re never more than one poet away from Alun Leach-Jones.”                I

                                                                                                                               Alun Leach-Jones’s solo exhibition titled The Plain Sense of Things is at the Bruce Heiser
                                                                                                                               Gallery in Brisbane from 22 August until 16 September, 2006. The largest painting in
                                                                                                                               the show, 168 x 214cm, is priced at $33,000, and the smallest paintings, 71 x 97cm,
                                                                                                                               at $10,000.
  However, Leach-Jones’s allusions to life’s miseries are more than offset by his glorious colours                                Rex Irwin Art Dealer is exhibiting Leach-Jones’s recent sculptures at the
  which bustle and pulsate with the resounding exaltation of a Chartres window.                                                Melbourne Art Fair which runs from 2 to 6 August, 2006. These domestic-sized
                                                                                                                               bronze sculptures will be priced at $8,000.


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