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Richard John (Dick) WATKINS (b.1937) - NIGHT IN TUNISIA

Richard John (Dick) WATKINS (b.1937)

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Dick Watkins was born in Sydney in 1937. His passion for artistic expression came from a driving force within. A pioneer of abstract painting in Australia, Watkins is mainly self-taught although between 1955 and1958 he made occasional forays into more formalised learning, attending the Julian Ashton School and East Sydney Technical College in Sydney.

His first solo exhibition was held at Barry Stern Galleries in 1963 and from 1966-69 provided influential direction amongst the artists of Sydney’s Central Street Gallery. In 1968 Watkins was a major contributor to the National Gallery of Victoria’s landmark exhibition, The Field. This was the first major survey exhibition of colour-field painting and geometric abstraction in Australia.

1970 saw Watkins begin his ten year association with Chandler Coventry, exhibiting at the Hargrave Street Gallery and at Coventry Gallery. In 1985, while associated with Yuill/Crowley Gallery, Watkins represented Australia at the XVIII Bienal de Sao Paulo. In acknowledgment and celebration of Watkins’ important contribution to Australian art, the Wagga Wagga Regional Art Gallery held a major retrospective exhibition in 1989, whilst in 1993 the National Gallery of Australia mounted the exhibition Dick Watkins in Context, a body of works drawn from the gallery’s substantial collections.

Acknowledged as one of Australia’s master painters, Watkins’ major group exhibitions include Young Commonwealth Artists, London in 1962, Contemporary Australian Painting, Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1965 and The Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prize exhibitions, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2001.

Watkins’ emotive and powerful artistic technique invites the viewer to follow the flowing journey of brush and paint across the canvas. Simple delicacy of form and colour belie the complexity and sophistication of execution: a subtlety achieved through the artist’s deep understanding of his medium.

Among his influences Watkins sites cubism, Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell and Willem De Kooning. The artist also draws inspiration from cinema, literature and the everyday life that swirls around him to produce his eclectic works which embrace both abstract expressionism and figuration. 

Using colour as the basis of his work, Watkins says that that this technique is most evident in his early career whilst associated with Australian colour-field painting.    

His first solo exhibition in 1963 featured what were probably the first hard-edge paintings by an Australian artist. Experimenting with many styles, Watkins moved from a spontaneous approach to the canvas, bowing to ‘structure’ as being of equal importance to his sublime use of colour in the success of the final work. By continuously evolving style and technique, from the geometric to a softer, more emotional free-spirited abstraction, Dick Watkins remains one of Australia’s freshest and most innovative painters.

With significant solo and group exhibitions throughout Australia, Watkins is represented in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of South Australia, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Queensland Art Gallery, many regional gallery collections and numerous noteworthy corporate and private art collections.


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