Self Portrait As An Evolving Landscape, oil on linen

Metamorphosis has always been, for me, one of the basic facts of life. Everything takes on a form, changes, falls apart and reforms in new organizations as part of an endless cycle.
-James Gleeson

A Memory Bank, oil on linen
Protagonists, oil on linen

I am currently working on a series of paintings for a project that at the moment shall remain confidential here, but not unlike many days in my studio, I’ve had books and files and images open to a few select artists while working on these new paintings. I have them out around me as a reminder to dig deeper. These are artists who push the envelope in terms of possibilities, integrating personal vision and authenticity within their work, and openness when it comes to creating and concepting. One of those artists – one who’s at the top few of my list of faves – is James Gleeson. What it is about this artist is not only his work, but also his way of being and the way he incorporates the act of painting itself with his outlook on life and philosophy that I admire about him. Gleeson was an artist most committed to the Surrealist movement in Australia – born in November 1915 and died in October 2008 – who painted all the way up to his latest years at nearly 93 (added inspiration right there!). Much of what has made an impression on me about Gleeson is not only his work, which I’m deeply enthralled by and find myself falling into it each time I look at it, but also his outlook and philosophy which I feel incredibly in tune with in many ways. So, I thought I’d share some of his work here along with a few quotes by the artist himself.

sketch in charcoal, powdered graphite, collage No.282
Eden Adjusted By Climate Change, oil on linen
The Spirit Of Things, oil on linen

At the heart of every great work of art lies an area of darkness that defies analysis. Theorists try, but something of the greatest works always elude the pursuer… Surrealism is an art-form that is intended to be interpreted. It is a literary art. It is the name given to those forms of creative art that are evolved not so much from the conscious mind as from the deeper recesses of the subconscious mind. It is not whether you have understood exactly what the artist had in mind, but whether or not it has stirred your imagination into a creative act. You have reacted out of your own experience and hence the relationship between you and the painting becomes an intimate one. Because you have given the picture something of yourself, then the picture becomes part of you.

Down Draught, oil on linen
In The Range Of Memory, oil on linen

I must admit the exercise of my own particular idea of aesthetics has not always made the outcome comfortable for the viewer. The line between the ugly and the beautiful is, like the equator, an imaginary line. In art its position varies with the viewer. For me, I doubt whether it exists at all. I doubt if it has any role to play in the search for the reality that lies beyond the apparent reality.

A Decision Of The Clouds, oil on linen
A Journey To The Edge Of Night, oil on linen

We often wish for things, that if the wish were granted, it would be detrimental for us. The gift would overawe us. If we get the gift it could dominate or wreck our real life…all these things that were longed for…turn out to be things that bind us or even destroy us.

Figurations In Search Of Identity, oil on linen
charcoal, graphite powder No.533

Today reason rules almost as much by force as by habit. At this moment, while we are at war against the totalitarian ideologies, we yet permit the more repressive dictatorship of reason over our minds.

charcoal, powdered graphite, collage No.272 and No.282
Landscape With Self In Parenthesis / Remembering Tomorrow, oil on linen

Are themes such as these intended to cover over the glimpses of the unconscious that may have subliminally appeared? Are they masks contrived to mislead? Or are they attempts to show that the world apprehended through our senses is not the whole truth about reality?

Genesis, oil on linen
Something Will Be, oil on linen

Perhaps the questions are, by their very nature and through the limitations of our humanity, quite unanswerable…Nevertheless I still go on painting, compulsively, convulsively. Perhaps that is because it is in art, as a manifest operation of the creative instinct, that I can still detect a glimmer of something eternal.

The Message Arrives, oil on linen
James Gleeson in front of The Message Arrives / portrait by Greg Weight