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 “I've never accepted the external appearance of things as the whole truth… The world is much more elaborate than the nerves of our eye can tell us…”   James Gleeson.

This exhibition honours Australia’s most notable Surrealist. It is the first overview by the Art Gallery of New South Wales of Gleeson’s drawings and includes some of his earliest, made in the late 1930s, to the most recent. There is also a selection of key paintings relating to these drawings from public and private collections.

James Gleeson has created an extraordinary visual feast as challenging, eloquent and surprising as any Surrealist who preceded him. Studying the drawings with paintings in mind intensifies our experience of them - their intimacy, scale and the suggestive power of pencil or charcoal on paper offer a sympathetic and informed insight into his imagination.

Comprising 110 works of art, the exhibition presents a major reassessment of the inter-relationship between drawing and painting in Gleeson’s oeuvre, and proffers new perspectives on his distinctive iconography and the themes that have fascinated him throughout his long career.

The selected works are drawn primarily from the Art Gallery of New South Wales collection, which has been much enriched as a result of the generous gift of over 400 drawings from the artist and his partner, Frank O’Keefe.

James Gleeson’s gentleness belies the dramatic power and monumentality of his work. He is not only an acclaimed painter and draughtsman, but has also distinguished himself as a writer and curator. Now in his 88th year, Gleeson has produced a formidable corpus of drawings and paintings that explore the reaches of his unique imagination. They are often epic in the scale of their vision and always meticulous in quality and execution.

The exhibition has been organised by Hendrik Kolenberg, Senior Curator and Anne Ryan, Assistant Curator of Australian Prints, Drawings and Watercolours at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. A fully illustrated colour catalogue accompanies the exhibition.

An introductory video, produced by Geoffrey Sykes, accompanies the exhibition and includes an interview with James Gleeson. A series of exhibition talks by Gallery Curators, Anne Ryan and Hendrik Kolenberg, and readings of Surrealist poetry will also take place during the exhibition.

Tuesdays, Fridays & Sundays, 2pm
From 29 April


Wednesday 23 April, 1.30pm
Hendrik Kolenberg, Senior Curator Australian Prints, Drawings and Watercolours

Wednesday 30 April, 1.30pm
Anne Ryan, Assistant Curator, Australian Prints, Drawings and Watercolours

Wednesdays & Sundays from 30 April, 2.30pm
Domain Theatre, Lower Level 3
Documentaries on James Gleeson and the artists who influenced him, including Hieronymous Bosch and Salvador Dalí. Includes the influential early surrealist film by Dalí and Buńuel, Un Chien Andalou (1929) as well as more recent masterpieces of the horror/fantasy genre such as Ridley Scott's Alien, and Peter Weir's The Cars That Ate Paris.

James Timothy Gleeson was born in Hornsby (Sydney) on 21 November 1915. He studied art at East Sydney Technical College and teaching at the Sydney Teachers College, where his first surrealist painting City on a tongue 1938 was included in a student exhibition. He has exhibited regularly since 1939, although for a while writing, especially poetry, occupied Gleeson almost as much as painting, and for a time he was undecided as to which path to take as a career.

From 1941-44 Gleeson taught art at Kogarah Girls High School, and lectured in art at Sydney Teachers College 1945-46. Between 1947 and 1949 he travelled extensively in England and Europe which afforded him the opportunity to see the work of the Italian and Northern old masters as well as the work of surrealists including Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst and Rene Magritte. He has continued to travel, taking many trips abroad in intervening decades.

Gleeson’s major monograph on the work of William Dobell, published by Thames and Hudson in 1964, established him as a serious art historian. His other books include Masterpieces of Australian Painting 1969, Colonial Painters 1788-1800, Impressionist Painters 1881-1930 and Modern Painters 1931-1970, 1971, Robert Klippel 1983. In 1993 Angus and Robertson published his Selected poems.

Gleeson has served in a number of capacities for bodies including the Teachers Federation Art Society (Sydney), Contemporary Art Society, the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation, Commonwealth Art Advisory Board, International Art Critics Association and the National Gallery of Australia. He was awarded membership of the Order of Australia (AM) for services to art in 1975 and holds honorary degrees from Macquarie University, Sydney (1989) and the University of New South Wales (2001). He was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 1990.

His work was an important inclusion in the National Gallery of Australia’s exhibition Surrealism: revolution by night 1993 and its regional touring satellite Surrealism in Australia. Books on his work include those by Lou Klepac (James Gleeson: landscape out of nature 1987) and Renée Free (James Gleeson: images from the shadows 1993, reprinted 1996). Exhibitions of his work have been held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Australia, New England Regional Art Museum, Armidale and the University of Sydney. James Gleeson’s work is represented in all major public collections in Australia, numerous regional and university collections as well as corporate and private collections.

On view:Saturday 12 April to Sunday 15 June 2003
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney
Telephone:(02) 9225 1744 or recorded information (02) 9225 1790 National Toll Free 1800 679 278
Hours:10am to 5pm, 7 days a week
Admission:Free of Charge
Media Information and Interviews:Claire Martin, Press Office
Telephone 61 2 9225 1734
Images available upon request

IMAGE CREDIT: James Gleeson in his studio. Photo: Miriam Stirling