Art Nomad
Art Nomad
Brighton, Victoria 3186 Australia
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Willaim James (Bill) FERGUSON (b.1932)

William (Bill) Ferguson was born in Melbourne, Australia, on 4 January 1932. *Photo of artist As a child, he would go out with his father, who was a Sunday painter, to paint landscapes in watercolour. ** Continuing to enjoy art at school, Ferguson studied painting at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and then at Melbourne Teachers’ College. ***

From 1953 to 1981, Ferguson taught art. **** One of his first posts was to Colac where he taught metal work and blacksmithing. Ferguson recalls encouraging the students to make sculptures from the metal. Ferguson also met his wife in Colac and they returned to Melbourne where Ferguson taught for a time at Camberwell High. ** He then moved to Melbourne State College, where he lectured in, and taught, painting. He was Head of Department, Art & Design from 1972 to 1981. **** He was a Senior Lecturer in painting at RMIT from 1982 to 1989 and has since worked for the School of Art in both Australia and Hong Kong. ***

Ferguson’s passions include travel and classical music. He recalls the Smorgon family being an early patron who provided him with immediate funds to travel in return for several artworks a year for three years. ** Ferguson has travelled widely in Asia and Europe forming an understanding of diverse practices. His works have many sources in Aboriginal, Klee, Western abstraction, Indian and Chinese painting. David Thomas has said: “What is common to all his work is a universal questioning about the world and our place in it. Although highly informed and open to contemporary practice, Ferguson has continued to paint Australia as his primary source, and his place in it and it in him.” ***

Ferguson currently lives in Melbourne with his wife.

In 1962, Ferguson held his first exhibition at the Argus Gallery in Melbourne. Since then, Ferguson has held over 32 solo exhibitions in Australia and Germany. His numerous group exhibitions include: Blake Prize, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; McCaughey Prize, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; and the Düsseldorf International, Germany.

*** Ferguson has been awarded numerous prizes, including the Kanyana Prize (1962); the ESU Watercolour Prize, Melbourne (1966); the City of Doncaster Prize (1967); the Inez Hutchison Prize (1974); and a Commendation in the 1994 Blake Prize, Art Gallery of New South Wales. ***

Ferguson was an early exponent of acrylic painting in Melbourne. He still makes his own paints enabling a great refinement of colour intensity, range of mark making and gesture to be part of his nuanced visual language. Ferguson has an ability to adjust colour, he generates movement and light though colour and gesture. ***

Ferguson comments: “When I paint I work from intuition, using my imagination. That is one of the hardest things, of course, in art, is to find oneself … I find a path that can’t be described in words. You think you’re on the right track and you get very pleased with yourself, then you come to a fork in the road and you have to go on one way on the fork, so you find you take one turn in the fork, and you keep going on the path and you think, “oh, this is really the path,” then another fork comes up. So, it’s like travelling that sort of road all your life as a painter.” *****

Ferguson was part of the first generation of artists who directly engaged with the Australia landscape via abstraction. He was to combine this with an ongoing concern in his art with sign, symbol and archetype. His work can be read as a reconciling of the phenomenal with the symbolic. He was respectful of indigenous works, in particular that of the central desert before it became fashionable or mainstream. Since the 1950s, he has visited central desert and has been described as a translator of indigenous understandings into a western painting. Indigenous dreaming and western dreaming meet in his work. ***

Ferguson’s paintings attempt to tell the ancient stories of Australia through a series of meandering dots and landscapes. He asks that the viewer take time to be still and reflect - and to ‘walk’ with him in order to explore mythologies of the Aboriginal Dreamtime. It is his view that, in his paintings, the space gives us the opportunity to open our minds to new possibilities and thoughts.

The dreamlike quality and misty colours of his work provide the opportunity for the viewer to pause and contemplate them in silence. In doing so, this allows viewers to fill that void which exists in each of us – the gaps between knowing, feeling and reality. The dots and brush work allow us to experience the ancient stories.

Ferguson paints about story, relationship and deep knowing in the colours of Australia and in a manner that invites the viewer to journey to places deep inside.

Ferguson has said: “By using Aboriginal anthropology and central landscape as subject matter, I attempt to aspire to a kind of communion, a spiritual connectiveness with my work and the spectator.”

Ferguson’s works are held in Collections across Australia and New Zealand, including the National Gallery of Australia, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Parliament House, Canberra, the Museum of New Zealand, the Ian Potter Museum of Art and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery as well as other regional galleries, corporate collections and Universities throughout Australia and in many important private collections in Australia and overseas in New Zealand, United Kingdom, India, USA, Germany, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Japan, including the German Ministry in Bonn and Rothschilds Bank in London. ***

* William (Bill) Ferguson, Australian Prints + Printmaking ** Interview with Bill Ferguson, Emily Ballinger, 3 August 2023 *** Link IV: Paintings: Spaces / Places / Times, Catalogue, RMIT School of Art Gallery, David Thomas, August 2010 **** William James (Bill) Ferguson, Australian and New Zealand Art Sales Digest ***** In the studio with Bill Ferguson, Transcript, Artists of Boorandara, 26 June 2018


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