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Anthony (Tony) John COLEING (b.1942) - BROKEN PIPE

Anthony (Tony) John COLEING (b.1942)

Anthony (Tony) John Coleing was born in Warnambool, Victoria in 1942. * After spending some of his childhood on the North Coast of New South Wales, the family returned to Maffra, in Gippsland, where Coleing went to high school for four years. ** Coleing moved to Sydney in 1958 and enrolled in the National Art School (East Sydney Technical College) at the age of 15, studying painting under John Passmore from 1958 to 1959. *

Between 1960 and 1962 he travelled in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and New Zealand, working as a labourer before travelling to England in 1963 to immerse himself in the London art scene. *** He moved into Ladbroke Grove, a neighbourhood with an established Australian artist expat community: Brett Whiteley, Rollin Schlicht, Michael Johnson, Tony McGillick, Roy Harper, Vernon Treweeke and Noel Dunn lived and worked in the area during the early 1960s. *

From 1964 to 1968, Coleing supported himself by making backdrops for the Royal Court Theatre and dealing fine art and antiques on Portobello Road. During these early years of his art practice in London, he focused on painting and was included in the Young Commonwealth artists at Whitechapel Gallery in 1964, among other exhibitions. *

It was on his return trip to Australia in 1968 that Coleing decided to seriously devote himself to making sculpture, and he achieved immediate success, participating in seven exhibitions.

He was awarded project grants by the Visual Arts Board in 1973, 1974 and 1976, and occupied the Visual Arts/Craft Board New York studio in 1987. ***

Over the decades, Coleing held various teaching roles at Sydney College of the Arts, the University of Sydney and the Tasmanian School of Art. Since the mid 1990s, he has lived on, and continues his art practice from, the North Coast of New South Wales. *

On his return to Sydney from London in 1968, Coleing participated in seven exhibitions, including Young contemporaries at Farmers Blaxland Gallery, two group exhibitions at Gallery A and, most notably, the landmark exhibition, The Field, at the National Gallery of Victoria, the first comprehensive display of colour-field painting and abstract sculpture in Australia. * While living in London in the mid-1960s, Coleing had begun experimenting with plastics in his sculptures, and he included two of these works in The Field alongside Untitled, 1968, which was created specifically for the exhibition. ***

Coleing then held his first solo exhibition, Frondescence, at Gallery A in both Sydney and Melbourne in 1969, featuring works influenced by Untitled, 1968. Frondescence, meaning to bear or appear as having an abundance of leaves or fronds, encapsulates these sculptures: biomorphic aluminium fronds move organically and naturally, resembling delicate branches caught in a breeze. ***

In 1970, Coleing exhibited work in the Mildura Sculptural Triennial for the first time. In 1971, he won the Flotta Lauro Prize, a travelling scholarship to Europe, with the work Hide and seek, which is now in the Art Gallery of New South Wales collection. He was also awarded the Muswellbrook Art Prize in 1971. The same year he was included in I want to leave a nice well-done child here at Bonython Gallery in Sydney and the National Gallery of Victoria. Curated by Harald Szeemann at the invitation of John Kaldor, this was the first major exhibition of conceptual art in an Australian gallery.

In 1980, Coleing joined two other emerging artists, Mike Parr and Kevin Mortensen, in representing Australia at the Venice Biennale. In this infamous presentation, two of Coleing’s three works – all social and political satires – were banned. * In his installation Who wants to be a millionaire Coleing exhibited a large, single ‘uranium’ cake that was then cut into 1000 slices and sold to visitors. Officials closed the performance after two days, stating Coleing contravened local law by selling ‘food’ in the Giardini precinct without an appropriate permit. However, it is widely considered that the controversial nature of the work contributed to the early closure of the exhibit as mining for the metal oxide was a major political issue during the 1970s. ****

Coleing has held over 30 solo exhibitions, as well as numerous joint and group exhibitions, around Australia. More recently, Coleing was joint winner of the 33rd Alice Prize in 2004.

Coleing has worked across a range of mediums, from painting, drawing and printmaking to sculpture. From embedding springs in steel, which influenced his Broken pipe series, he moved to utilising all sorts of materials from glass, paper, lino, fishnet, plaster and photographs and veers away from repeating creations for too long, not wanting to become “stale” or “comfortable” pursuing the same lines of works. ** It has also been suggested that he is “too restless intellectually or aesthetically to stay with one thing for long” and Patrick McCaughey commented: “Where before our expectations for the unity in sculpture sprang from the clear relation of parts, sympathetic volumes or readily decipherable rhythms, Coleing substitutes quite deliberate incongruences.” *****

Coleing recognises that both his painting and sculpture encompass social commentary and criticism infused with a satirical, cutting-edge. He also enjoys humour and playing with words, for example with his de Flower machine series. ** However, Coleing resists any attempts to label him as representing any particular artform, style or even to describe his approach to art other than that “I still like exploring my art.” *****

Coleing is also a prolific printmaker, often in collaboration with other artists. In some cases, these works offer another way of delineating three-dimensionality and keeping a record of his sculptures. In an interview for The Gallery of NSW archive in 2011, Coleing said: “I just see the whole lot – printmaking, photography – as part of the whole of artmaking. I get a bit tired sometimes of working in a particular medium. Sometimes I want to change medium and see what I can do with it. I love new technology and I love playing around with computers. I’m not going to restrict myself and have a paintbrush in my hand all the time.” *

Coleing’s works are held in Collections across Australia, including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the National Gallery of Victoria, the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of South Australia, the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the Queensland Art Gallery, the Museum of New Zealand and many other state and regional galleries, corporate, university and significant private Collections throughout Australia.

* Tony Coleing, Artist profile: Biography, Art Gallery of NSW ** James Gleeson Interviews: Tony Coleing, Transcript, James Gleeson Oral History Collection, National Gallery of Australia, 1 January 1979 *** Tony Coleing, The Field Revisited Artwork Labels, pp. 5 & 105 **** Yellow cake, Narrative, Lisa McDonald, National Gallery of Australia 2010 ***** Interview with Tony Coleing, Deborah Edwards, Balnaves Foundation Australian Sculpture Archive Project, Art Gallery of NSW Archive, 20 July 2011 and 22 April 2015.


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