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Anthony (Tony) MCGILLICK (b.1940; d.1992) - GOLD BAR

Anthony (Tony) MCGILLICK (b.1940; d.1992)

Tony McGillick was born in Sydney in 1941 and grew up in the Eastern Suburbs. He was known as Tony, but his full name was Antonov Carlyle McGillick, named by his parents after two of their communist heroes. Tony studied at the Julian Ashton School of Art. In 1960, he moved to London and, following a short period in New York, returned to Sydney in 1965.

Tony was a driving force behind the opening of the innovative Central Street Gallery in April 1966, together with Harold Noritis and John White (his half-brother). Until it closed in 1970, the Central Street Gallery was “a gallery like no other in Sydney. Welcome to Central Street, and the arrival of a new avant-garde – tough, uncompromising, and determined to change the course of painting … to provide a space for artists to show new styles of work, and to offer the public new ways of seeing, and perceiving, art.” Many of the artists who exhibited at Central Street Gallery were the ‘colour field’ painters, a diverse group of artists “determined to thrust Australian art into the current of international modernism”.*

Even after Central Street Gallery closed and the space became the Institute of Contemporary Art (1974-78, and, even later, a private space), Tony and his co-founders were generous with their “time, skills and money” visiting the studios of young artists and providing space, materials and promotional support to artists they felt were worthy of exposure.**

As well as being an artist, Tony McGillick worked in advertising throughout his life and was married with children. His career was cut short by his sudden death on 3rd November 1992, just as he was planning on leaving advertising and dedicating himself to his art.***

Whilst living in London, Tony participated in group exhibitions in London, Edinburgh and Frankfurt. After returning to Sydney, he held a joint exhibition with Roy Harpur and Rollin Schlicht in 1966 at Central Street Gallery and, in 1968, his first solo exhibition which was also shown at Pinacotheca in Melbourne.

In 1968, he exhibited in the seminal The Field at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, which was later shown in Sydney, introducing Tony McGillick’s work to a wider audience. Regarded as a landmark exhibition in Australian art history, The Field was a radical presentation of 74 works by 40 artists who practised hard-edge, geometric, colour and flat abstraction, influenced by American art of the time.

McGillick continued to participate in various group exhibitions until 1973 and he held a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne in 1978, titled Survey 6 Tony McGillick but, after this, his work was rarely shown. In 1990 his work was included in the exhibition Central Street – An exhibition of selected paintings at the Charles Nodrum Gallery in Melbourne which was also shown at Sydney’s Ray Hughes Gallery in 1991.

In the early 1990s, McGillick started to think about exhibiting again and was planning an exhibition at Sherman Galleries, Sydney, but this was unrealised due to his sudden death. Instead, in 1993, Sherman Galleries held a memorial exhibition and another solo exhibition was held at Annandale Galleries in 2000. Most recently, in 2018, a retrospective was held at the Macquarie University Art Gallery A Field of Colour, Tony McGillick.

McGillick is recognised as one of the pioneers of internationalism in Australian art for his flat colour field works influenced by hard edge American abstraction.

McGillick’s early paintings are irregularly shaped geometric canvases with simple areas of colour. He “was exploring the idea that the shape of a painting need not be confined to the ‘neutral’ convention of the square, rectangle, oval or circle, but could be a dynamic part of the composition”. He also toyed with texture and depth, focusing on colour and the way it interacts with the painting. For example, in Jasper’s Gesture (1966), the “flat surfaces and synthetic colours contrast with the single white panel in painterly encaustic (pigment and wax)”. ****

In the 1970s his flat paintings were replaced by unstretched draped canvas works, such as Imogen’s Ensign (1973), marking “the end of something, but not yet the beginning of something else”. Tony’s painting “reaches its apotheosis with the splendidly expressive late paintings (1989-92) in acrylic on canvas and paper … the unrestrained jouissance of Tony’s late work with its underlying forms linking back to some of his earliest work. In this way Tony McGillick’s work shows the consistency of concern and clarity of values which always marks out the best in painting.” *****

Both Jasper’s Gesture (1966) and Imogen’s Ensign (1973), are held in the Collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, and Arbitrator (1968) is held in the Collection of the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane. Other works are held by IBM Collection and in other private Collections.

* Quotes in this paragraph from the program summary for Central Street Lives presented by Jennifer Bowen, ABC 27 February 2005 ** Tribute: Tony McGillick, Paul McGillick, Artist Profile, Issue 45, 2018 *** A Field of Colour: New Exhibition Revisits Tony McGillick’s Artworks, Macquarie University Art Gallery, 19 July 2018 **** Art Gallery of NSW, ‘Jasper’s Gesture’, About ***** A Field of Colour: New Exhibition Revisits Tony McGillick’s Artworks, Macquarie University Art Gallery, 19 July 2018


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