James GLEESON (b.1915; d.2008)
James Gleeson is Australia’s most notable Surrealist painter. Inspired by Freudian and other psychological theories, he creates visionary landscapes edging along the boundaries between reason and subconscious, beauty and ugliness, sea and land. Some of his more bizarre, nightmarish images grew out of his early war experiences, remaining a subconscious part of his persona and his paintings.
Gleeson and his partner, fellow painter Frank O'Keefe, lived in Sydney and for nearly three decades he painted smaller works at weekends while working as an art teacher, museum curator, lecturer and art critic. However, he was travelling extensively, looking and learning, storing away ideas and developing themes, and at the age of 68, moved to a larger studio. Here he was able to give himself the physical and mental space to put those collected feelings and ideas down on canvas. He began working on larger pieces, the hallmark being that they were big in scale and meticulous in execution.
With Gleeson’s art, much depends on the viewer, who brings his/her own sensitivity and experiences with him/her so there is an interaction between the artist’s input and the viewer’s input.
No matter how gruesome the subject matter, Gleeson believes that what is ugly is an authentic part of reality, and there is no barrier between the two.
His body of work covers 60 years exploring the realms and possibilities of the surrealist creed, assessing and commenting on the human condition and adding his own insights and thoughts. Gleeson’s motifs are surrealistic themes, technical brilliance and delicate finishes.
He sums it up: “I think of Surrealism as a kind of Expressionism, not just emotions, but the subconscious part of experience and expressing it.
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