Important Fine Art + Aboriginal Art
2 December 2015


born 1942

oil on canvas

92.0 x 120.0 cm

signed lower right: Garry Shead

$40,000 – 60,000
Sold for $79,300 (inc. BP) in Auction 41 - 2 December 2015, Sydney

Dover Street Gallery, London (label attached verso)
Queensland Art Brokering
Private collection, Sydney
Company collection, Melbourne

Catalogue text

Garry Shead is a romantic painter, from his choice of subject through to the manner in which he applies his paint. Often working wet onto wet, he is a true exponent of the subtle qualities of oil paint. His confidence in his skill as a draftsman allows him the freedom to follow his intuition when drawing his subjects. His ability to subtly distort figures is something that he shared with his good friend Brett Whiteley. Both artists had an eye for the sensual line in art and indeed collaborated on occasion. We can also see traces of Russell Drysdale in the fine glazes that Shead uses to build his luminous colour on the surface, which appears to trap the atmosphere of the moment. Demonstrated in Adieu Australia, 1994 Shead uses the dark tones of the composition to amplify the flecks of light and colour, creating a radiant glow across the water.

In Adieu Australia, two lovers on board a cruise ship farewell Australia. Painted under the beauty of the night sky, the composition is lit up by the lights reflected on the harbour. The smitten lovers stand on the bow of boat as it prepares to depart. King and queen of the world, they are totally immersed in the moment. Meanwhile well-wishers stand on the edge of the wharf holding coloured streamers on one end, whilst unseen passengers on the ship hold the other end, just moments before the streamers snap and the symbolic link is broken.

There is a sensuality in the man’s touch of his partner and the woman’s bare shoulders and soft skin. Perhaps the two protagonists are D.H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda, both who feature in Shead’s celebrated D.H. Lawrence series. Or possibly the characters are indeed Shead and his wife Judith in an autobiographical depiction; Shead travelled to England and Ireland in the same year as the picture on offer was painted. We can only surmise at the identity of the man and woman, typical of Shead as he so often interchanges the features of his characters, treading a fine line between fiction and reality.

As always with Shead, there is a humorous aspect of the composition. Filling the bow of the vessel, the couple appear slightly comical as if they are giants trying to fit into a toy boat. At any moment, their weight could overwhelm the ship, sinking it and dashing their dreams of the voyage. Shead has also warped the perspective, as if the viewer is hovering above the scene so that the building and the wharf both tilt upwards, making the landscape somehow foreign and disorientating. The headland and the land in the distant refocus our orientation.

In a prophetic aside, the same pose was made famous several years later when the poster for the blockbuster film Titanic showed Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in a similar position on the bow of Titanic as it steamed toward its fate. No doubt this would have greatly amused the artist.