Plenty of reason to be a fan of Gleeson

Australian artist, poet, critic, writer and curator, James Timothy Gleeson was born in the Sydney suburb of Hornsby on 22 November, 1915. He attended East Sydney Technical College. In his youth, he was fascinated by art and became inspired by the Surrealist artists such as Salvador Dalí, Giorgio de Chirico and Max Ernst. In 1938, Gleeson studied at the Sydney Teachers College, where he gained two years training in general primary school teaching. After this, he joined the Sydney Branch of the Contemporary Art Society. It was during this time that he became interested in the writings of psychologists such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, which would later become major intellectual influences for his art.

In the 1950s-60s Gleeson began dabbling in small psychedelic compositions using the surrealist technique of decalcomania in the background of a work, which suggested a landscape; and was finished by adding a human form often nude, in the foreground.

Since the 1970s, Gleeson has mostly constructed large scale paintings in keeping with the surrealist Inscape genre; which mostly resemble rocky seascapes. Many of his paintings displayed homoerotic undertones, underpinning his own homosexuality. Gleeson’s later works incorporate the human form less and less in its entirety. The human form was then represented in his landscapes by suggestions, an arm, a hand or merely an eye.

Gleeson served on the board of the National Gallery of Australia and in September 2007, the largest collection of Australian surrealism art ever collected was donated to the National Gallery of Australia by Ray Wilson. The collection included various works by James Gleeson. His retrospective in 2004-2005, Beyond the Screen of Sight, included 120 paintings and was exhibited in Melbourne and Canberra.

  • The above image: “We inhabit the corrosive littoral of habit” (1940) oil on canvas can be found at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

According to the promo blurb for this artwork, “James Gleeson was the most prominent practitioner and advocate of Surrealism in Australia. This work is one of Gleeson’s earliest Surrealist paintings which stylistically and iconographically is indebted to Salvador Dali. The disintegrating face presents an emotionally charged metaphor for the corrosion of the world and the human mind as a result of war”.

  • Gleeson died in Sydney on 20 October 2008, aged 92. His life partner Frank O’Keefe preceded him two years earlier in 2007.

All I can add is: ‘There ain’t no teasin’, for this is the reason why we won’t be ceasin’ the 100 years celebration of Gleeson’s season!”

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