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Rollin SCHLICHT (b.1937; d.2011) - JUBILATION

Rollin SCHLICHT (b.1937; d.2011)

Rollin Schlicht was born in 1937 on Ocean Island (now known as Banaba Island in the Republic of Kiribati), part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, where his father was a medical officer to the Phosphate Mining Company. * His parents were Australian (from Beaufort, in Victoria). However, his father had always wanted to be a psychiatrist and work in England. ** In 1939, his family left Ocean Island for England but became stranded in South Africa when war broke out, and instead arrived back in Australia the same year. *

Back in Australia, Schlicht’s father was drafted into general practice. He then joined the RAAF in 1943 and spent three years in Japan before going on to England. **

The rest of the family, including Schlicht, remained in Australia until 1951 when they moved to England, where Schlicht’s father had become a psychiatrist. The separation from his father and the expatriation to England was something Schlicht never quite overcame. In London, Schlicht’s parents were friends with a community of Australian artists including Arthur Boyd, Charles Blackman and Justin O’Brien and led a bohemian lifestyle. **

Schlicht studied at Winchester School of Art from 1956 to 1958 and then studied architecture at the Kingston School of Art from 1959 to 1966. * He lived in Ladbroke Grove and became friends with a group of young Australian artists, notably Michael Johnson, Brett Whiteley and Tony McGillick. *** He also met his wife, Diana Tilley-Wynard, with whom he had three children. **

Schlicht returned to Australia in 1966. * He lived with his young family in a flat on Walker Street in Lavender Bay, known for its artists and Bohemian lifestyle. Brett and Wendy Whiteley became the Schlicht’s upstairs neighbours, after they also returned from London, where they held regular parties.**** Schlicht became a key figure at Central Street Gallery and, throughout the 1960s and 1970s, he created large-scale canvases in flat colour with distinctive asymmetric shapes.* Not only did Schlicht exhibit at Central Street Gallery, he designed the downstairs space as one of Australia’s first examples of the ‘white cube’ that has become the standard for public and private galleries. Schlicht also designed the Coventry Gallery in Sutherland Street, Paddington. ***

Schlicht returned to London in 1978; during this time he retreated from painting to pursue his original training as an architect.***** Schlicht returned to live in Sydney in 1993.* He did not return to painting until the late 1990s, when he had secured residence and studio in the bush land suburb of Mount Kuring-gai, located on the outskirts of Sydney. Within this setting, Schlicht's strong impulse to paint led him working in the studio most days, resulting in a highly productive and flourishing period. *****

Schlicht was architecture and urban affairs writer for The Sydney Morning Herald in 1994, wrote poetry and was a contributor to various books and magazines. **

Schlicht participated in Central Street Gallery’s 3 Painters and Works on Paper exhibitions in 1966. His first solo exhibition was also held at Central Street Gallery in 1967. ****** Also in 1967, he was joint winner with John Coburn and Carl Plate of the Aubusson Tapestry Prize. ** His paintings were translated into tapestries by the Aubusson workshops in France and, in 1968, the completed works were shown at public galleries around Australia. ***

In 1968, two of Schlicht’s works, Dempsey and Twentieth century note, were included in the ground-breaking inaugural exhibition of colour field and abstract works, The Field, at the new premises of the National Gallery of Victoria.* From then, Schlicht exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne until 1976, including the Biennale of Sydney in 1973.******

With his return to London and break in making art, Schlicht did not exhibit again until 2005 and 2007 at Ray Hughes Gallery in Sydney. ****** In 2012, Macquarie University Art Gallery mounted the retrospective Rollin Schlicht: A Man for All Seasons. * It was the first exhibition to re-examine the artist's work spanning from 1966-2008. *****

Schlicht’s work covers a variety of influences from the geometric abstractions sprung from the heady days of the Central Street Gallery period through to the lyrical colour field and figurative works of the 1970s.***** His painting included highly ornamental and decorative imagery, from expressive gestural movements to more angular, constructed geometric forms. This complex eloquence was evident even in his most minimal works. For example, Twentieth century note, one of his pieces exhibited at The Field in 1968, with its irregularly shaped canvas, was characteristic of Schlicht’s work of the period. Like many of his contemporaries, Schlicht used the shaped canvas to explore the concept that paintings need not be confined to the conventional shape of the square, rectangle, oval or circle. *

In 1970, Schlicht created the masterpiece work Nabis - a diffusion of light, colour and decorative form in homage to the Nabis artists of the late nineteenth century. Attaining such intensity in production throughout this phase, Schlicht was considered to be one of Australia’s most prodigious artists of that period. Patrick McCaughey, a leading art critic of the time, deemed Schlicht the “most accomplished and versatile of the young and skilled hard-edge painters working in Sydney” making Australian art “look less tired, almost exciting and certainly much more hopeful.” *****

In Schlicht’s later paintings, he invests in fresh ways of using abstraction as a means of bridging the lacuna between the regional and the universal, in a complex synthesis of ideas and approaches gathered over a lifetime. These later paintings have been said to signify the artist’s finest and most compelling works. *****

Schlicht’s works are held in Collections across Australia, including the Art Gallery of NSW, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Art Gallery of South Australia and many other state and regional galleries, university and significant private Collections throughout Australia.

* Rollin Schlicht, The Field Revisited Artwork Labels pp 64, 84, 88 and 130, The National Gallery of Victoria, 2018 ** Vale Rollin Schlicht – Architect’s first love was painting, Paul McGillick, 2 May 2011, Sydney Morning Herald *** Ways of being, John McDonald, 1 September 2012, Sydney Morning Herald **** About Bohemian Harbour: Artists of Lavender Bay, Veronica Cooyman, Museum of Sydney ***** Rollin Schlicht - A Man for all Seasons. A Retrospective, Abstract, Rhonda Davis and Paul McGillick, Macquarie University Press, 2012 ****** Rollin Schlicht, Biography, Design and Art Australia Online, updated 18 August 2016


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