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Thomas GLEGHORN (b.1925)

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Thomas (known as Tom) Gleghorn was born in Thornley, England in 1925. At the age of three, he emigrated with his family to the depression town of Warner’s Bay, on the shores of Lake Macquarie in NSW. The family lived in a simple ‘Humpies’ home of bush timber, white-washed flour bags and earth floors. Just after he started school, young Thomas established a friendship of sorts with a local hard-drinking ex-marine, Joe Westcott. Westcott introduced him to Aesop’s Fables, spurring in Gleghorn a lifelong quest for knowledge. *

As a teenager, during the Second World War, Gleghorn completed an engineering apprenticeship at BHP's Newcastle steelworks. He didn't particularly enjoy the work, but he developed technical drawing skills that would help shape his future career. ** He was interested in philosophy and read works by Santayana in his spare time. Then, in his 20s, he won an art prize for ‘The Open Road’. In 1949, to further inspire him, Gleghorn’s wife, Elsie, took him to the Art Gallery of NSW where he saw William Dobell’s portrait of Margaret Olley and the landscape ‘Storm Approaching Wangi’. Gleghorn says that the paintings so captured his imagination that he went back to the Lakes, knocked on Dobell’s door and told him he wanted to be a painter. ***

Without any formal art training, but under the guidance of Dobell, Gleghorn embraced painting and drawing at the age of 24. A year later, he had left his engineering job and started to work in display design in Newcastle. His painting style quickly moved away from figuration and he began to paint in an abstract manner. *

In 1955, Gleghorn, his wife and their two young children moved to Sydney. There he worked as an artist designer for various retail stores including Grace Bros and then Farmers. By 1958, Gleghorn was one of Australia’s most celebrated artists and he became the director of Blaxland Galleries, Sydney. His work had grown in scale and ambition, with critical opinion seeing him as an exponent of the abstract expressionist style that was sweeping the globe. ***

Tom worked mainly as a painter but had brief forays into the world of linocut, an artform which he taught himself. In 1961 he won the Helena Rubenstein Travelling Scholarship, which he used to head overseas, touring the famous European art galleries from 1962-1963. Whilst overseas, Gleghorn visited the Curwen Press and printed a series of 10 lithographs at the Birgot Skiold Print Studio in London.

Returning to Sydney, Gleghorn became an art educator, teaching art and design at the National Art School, Sydney until 1968, when he became Head of Canberra Art School. In 1969, Gleghorn and his family moved to Adelaide where he became Lecturer in Art at Bedford Park Teachers’ College. *

Gleghorn finally left teaching to become a full-time painter in 1983 and continues to live in Adelaide. **** Thomas Gleghorn’s enduring love of art is matched by his love of good food and wine.

Gleghorn began exhibiting in Sydney from 1954. His first solo exhibition of paintings was held at Newcastle Art Gallery in 1959. The show was opened by an admirer and collector of Gleghorn’s paintings, the Nobel Prize-winning writer Patrick White. Since then, Gleghorn has held more than 50 solo exhibitions and been included in numerous group exhibitions. The first major survey of his work, Homeward Bound: the art and life of Tom Gleghorn, was held at Newcastle Art Gallery in 2020. ****

For almost 50 years, Gleghorn consistently won a multitude of art prizes including over 30 major awards between 1957 and 1973. He was the inaugural winner of the Muswellbrook Art Prize in 1958 and won both the Mosman Art Prize and the Blake Prize that same year as well as being included in the Tokyo Print Biennale in 1960. * Gleghorn was honoured with the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for service to the arts as a painter and teacher in 2006. *****

Gleghorn describes himself as “an ordinary man who has chosen painting as something to do”, but he is considered one of Australia’s finest and most influential abstract expressionists. ****

In response to Robert Hughes’ infamous claim that Gleghorn has “a tendency to look for an abstract image by stylising a figurative one, instead of approaching the idea from within”, Gleghorn says he never thought of his work as abstract expressionism, simply as “my kind of reality”.*** Gleghorn has a disregard for the theory and rhetoric of abstraction – rather, for example, in painting ‘Games in the Late Dawn’ (1960-61), his expressed intention was to create a powerful painting from those elements of a landscape that struck him most forcibly, rearranging and recombining them for dramatic effect.*** Gleghorn has said: “If you look at any of my work, it's all got this mechanical structure to it. It has to be in some sort of order. And then I muck it up!” **

It is Gleghorn’s love of the Australian landscape that emerges as the most consistent feature of his long career. Some of the later works, pay homage to the antiquity of the desert. In such paintings, there is only a hint of abstraction, adding universal relevance to prosaic observation. ***

Gleghorn’s works are represented in Collections across Australia, including the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Art Gallery of South Australia, the Art Gallery of Western Australia and many other state and regional galleries, corporate, university and significant private Collections throughout Australia and in the U.K., the U.S.A. and Hong Kong.


* Tom Gleghorn, Australian Art Gallery, accessed 22 January 2021 ** Veteran painter Tom Gleghorn sees his work flow back to source of inspiration in the Hunter, Scott Bevan, Newcastle Herald, 9 May 2020 *** Tom Gleghorn: the famous artist who Australia forgot, John McDonald, Art critic, Sydney Morning Herald, 10 July 2020 **** Introduction to Homeward Bound: the art and life of Tom Gleghorn, Newcastle Art Gallery, 9 May – 19 July 2020 ***** Thomas Gleghorn OAM, Peter Jakobsen, The Varnished Culture, 10 May 2015


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