The Race That Stops a Nation

garry-shead-before-the-start-1989Above: “Before the Start” (1989)

“It was a fast week a hectic week,
And in Flemington they ran a race.
The punters rallied and partied hard,
And somehow lost the pace.
But now as the dust settles on the track.
The roses faded to dust.
The winner counts the winnings,
And the losers slouch home bust.
To all of you who had a wager,
I hope it was successful.
But to those like me with purses shut
Their gains are most regretful!”

“The race that stops a nation”is the annual horse racing event – “The Melbourne Cup” which is held on the first Tuesday of November, at Flemington Race Course in Melbourne, Victoria. It is the most prestigious of horse-racing events to be held ‘DownUnder’ and has become a major international event with a world-wide selection of horses brought to Flemington to vie for the Melbourne Cup. This year there was a great nail-biter of a finish and therefore, what better time to introduce you to a great Australian artist, who has painted this appropriate title “Before the Start”, as pictured above, which could be based on this event.

Garry Shead was born in Sydney in 1942. During his childhood he had many influencers such as his uncle the winemaker Maurice O’Shea and his friends who included the prominent artist, William Dobell. One of his fondest childhood memories is when he was awarded the Argonauts’ Art Prize – the judge was Jeffrey Smart. 

He received his early schooling at Shore in Sydney where the art master John Lipscombe and the art teacher, Ross Doig, were both supportive of his artwork and annually he won the school art prize. In his final year at Shore, he produced his own satirical newsletter, The Corn Flake, which had a legendary popularity with his peers.

In 1961 Shead gained admission to the National Art School in Sydney and his painting of his sister Lynne was accepted and hung in the Archibald Prize exhibition, at 19, making him one of the youngest Archibald exhibitors ever. Simultaneously he commenced work as a cartoonist for a number of magazines including The Bulletin.

It was here that Shead formed friendships and as a group of four art students they published their first issue of The Arty Wild Oat  in April, 1962. The first issue featured on its front page an interview with the art critic Robert Hughes, while the second issue, which also turned out to be the final issue, carried Shead’s interview with contoversial artist Norman Lindsay.

Shead’s earliest art school work focussed on the female nude found in urban and rural settings. Even at this early stage there is a certain conceptual unity in all of Shead’s work – the paintings, drawings and the films have a common erotic quest and gentle lyricism.

His freelance cartoons, apart from providing a source of much needed income, also brought him into contact with art critics and the broader world of Sydney journalism. It was also in the context of The Bulletin that Shead published an article which, at least in his mind, led to his non-re-admission to the Art School for his third year of study in 1963.

Shead held his first solo exhibition in July 1966 at Frank Watters Gallery in Sydney. He has subsequently had over 45 solo exhibitions and has participated in over 200 group exhibitions.

In 1993 Shead was awarded the Archibald Prize and in 2004 the Dobell Prize for drawing, which was judged by John Olsen.


Shead is one of Australia’s most highly acclaimed artists, represented around the world including:

  • National Gallery of Australia,
  • Gallery of New South Wales,
  • Art Gallery of South Australia,
  • Queensland Art Gallery,
  • Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery,
  • Newcastle Regional Art Gallery,
  • Wollongong City Art Gallery,
  • Hungarian National Museum, Budapest Hungary,
  • Shepparton Art Museum Gallery,
  • Sydney Morning Herald Collection, State Bank of India, Sydney,
  • University of Western Australia,
  • University of New South Wales,
  • Australian National University,
  • Queensland University of Technology,
  • Brisbane City Art Collection Artbank,
  • National Film Library Parliament House, Canberra,
  • Phillip Morris Collection Canberra,
  • Philip Morris Arts Grant in National Portrait Gallery Crafts Board Sydney

For the sweep I got “NotWorthTwoBob”

However, my monies on: “Old Carpet” – Never Been Beatin’

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