31. GARRY SHEAD
Garry Shead discovered the writings of Englishman David Herbert Richards “D. H” Lawrence (1885-1930) as a young man however it was not until later in life that the artist committed to a series of works on Lawrence’s book, Kangaroo. When he began the works, Shead was living in Bundeena, just north of Thirroul, where Lawrence had lived with his wife Frieda in 1922 while he wrote the book. Lawrence and his wife rented a house in Thirroul called ‘Wyewerk’ and it was here that the writer immersed himself in his project, uncovering the spirit of the place and the evocative power of its landscape which he vividly fashioned as a platform for Australian identity. The novel is about Australian fringe politics and the sources of power in marriage and society; the title Kangaroo is the nickname of the central character, Benjamin Cooley.
Shead’s D.H Lawrence series of paintings are indirectly autobiographical; Shead transposes himself and his late wife Judith into the characters however the paintings are not narratives of the book nor are they experiences of Lawrence and Frieda - Shead’s paintings convey the artist’s affinity to the book and Lawrence’s association to Thirroul. The art historian Professor Sasha Grishin, an authority on Shead and his D.H. Lawrence works, describes the connection between Shead’s work and Lawrence: ‘the paintings…create a rich and ambiguous fabric of vision…they are wonderfully vivid allegorical paintings.’1
The present work, We Are in Australia painted circa 1996, is set in the New South Wales south coast town of Thirroul and features Kangaroo’s three main protagonists – Richard Lovat Somers and his wife Harriet (who can be interpreted as Lawrence himself and his wife Freda, or, indeed, Shead and Judith) and the ubiquitous kangaroo. The kangaroo belongs to the country, and Lawrence throughout the novel refers to the ‘continent of the kangaroo’, but the visitors remain strangers, they are the intruders, spied upon until they leave. Here, the kangaroo and magpie, both omnipresent figures in this series, present a posy of wattle to the strangers in a gesture of acceptance. Set against the dazzling blue south coast waters, We Are in Australia is an enigmatic exploration of the relationship between the visitors and the spirit of the country. The present work possesses the effortless lyricism which characterises the best of Shead’s D.H Lawrence paintings.
The success of this series reflects the works’ beautifully evocative associations, demonstrating Shead’s ability to produce ‘wonderfully vivid allegorical paintings’2 which he has become so well-known for. When the first series of D.H Lawrence works were completed, seven exhibitions were held in Canberra, Wollongong, Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne, culminating at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. The following year, a number of the works were exhibited in London at the Dover Street Gallery in Mayfair. The D.H Lawrence painting are in the collections of art institutions across Australia and continue to be amongst Shead’s most highly sought after works on the secondary market.
1. Professor Sasha Grishin is the author of Garry Shead : the D.H. Lawrence Paintings, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1994
2. Grishin, S., ‘Gentle Lyricism’, Art Collector, issue 40, April-June 2007, accessed 6 November 2016 - www.artcollector.net.au/GarrySheadGentleLyricism
Caroline Jones BA, MArtAdmin.