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Edwin Russell Tanner was born in 1920 in Pengam, South Wales, and emigrated in 1923, at age three, with his coal miner father and family to Australia. The Depression saw Tanner leave school at the young age of thirteen, with his first job being a floor sweeper at BHP in Port Kembla.
Tanner was full of ambition and completed evening classes in building construction in 1937, along with undertaking correspondence courses in mathematics at London University. After completing his studies in structural and civil engineering, he moved to Hobart. Achieving mathematical and engineering qualifications, Tanner moved on to a successful professional career, with bridge design becoming his forte. In 1950 he was appointed Engineer-in-Charge, Structural Design at the Hydro-Electric Commission. During the same period, he studied Art part time at the Hobart Technical College, (graduating in 1956), where noted semi abstract painter, Rosamund McCulloch, proved a major influence.
Tanner pursued a successful career across two professions, as consultant engineer and artist, whilst also studying philosophy. In 1957, he moved to Melbourne. Tanner’s paintings are renowned for their 'sardonic elegance and dry cool quality' and are included in every state and national collection.
Tanner won a commemorative medal for painting at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. From 1966 to 1967, he was artist-in-residence in Europe before undertaking preliminary work towards a MA degree in Philosophy at Monash in 1969.
Steven Miller, Head of the Research Library and Archive of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, included Tanner’s painting, Pharaoh Hound, (c1958) in his book, Dogs in Australian Art, A New History of Antipodean Creativity. Tanner’s highly individual artistic expression demonstrates the mind as a machine to be attuned, displayed with humour, wit and control. Tanner ‘s work is recognized for its accuracy, delicate interpretation and cool colour palette. He pays tribute to his origins, with clear influences from his Celtic background evident throughout his lyrical works.
Tanner exhibited in the Sulman Prize in 1957 and 1958 and supervised the erection of the main cables of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. In 1960 Tanner set up his own Engineering Consultancy and exhibited at the Fourth Tasmanian Art Gallery Exhibition. He held numerous solo exhibitions at the Rudy Komon Gallery, Sydney, The Argus Gallery, Melbourne, Bonython Art Gallery, Adelaide, South Yarra Gallery, Melbourne and Macquarie Galleries, Sydney. He toured the USA through "The Raymond Burr Collection" and in 1964 won the Helena Rubenstein Travelling Art Scholarship. Tanner held a solo show at South Yarra Gallery, Melbourne, then travelled to Europe, the USA and Japan from 1966-1967. In the same year, Tanner suffered a stroke, but continued to work despite chronic pain, holding solo exhibitions at Strines Gallery, Melbourne and Barry Stern Galleries, Sydney.
In 1970 Tanner left engineering to become a full-time painter, with a solo show at Powell Street Gallery, Melbourne and in 1971 the "Connoisseurs' Collection", at Monash University. Tanner has been the recipient of numerous prizes including the 1973 Travelodge Art Prize. In 1978 the artist moved from the family home to North Melbourne and in 1980 held a solo show at Rudy Komon Gallery, Sydney before a brain tumor finally claimed the life of this individualistic and highly acclaimed artist.
Tanner’s work is represented in the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of South Australia, Queensland Art Gallery, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, University Galleries: Monash, Melbourne, LaTrobe, Adelaide, Flinders, and Austin, Texas - The Mertz Collection. Tanner is represented in Regional Galleries of Newcastle, Bendigo, Benalla, McClelland and Mornington.