The James Gleeson oral history collection

James Gleeson interviews Australia's major artists

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Judy Cassab
Corroboree Cave
painting, oil
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Judy Cassab

1 January 1978 [unknown location]

James Gleeson: Judy, in these two paintings that we have in our collection at the moment, one dated 1961 called Corroboree cave and one called Retreat, dated 1967, we can see the difference in medium and technique that you have just been talking about.

Judy Cassab: Yes. With the first one, perhaps I will start with a little story. This was when I started painting abstract or, let us say, not quite representational things—

James Gleeson: So it was the beginning of that—

Judy Cassab: It was the beginning of that period. Paul Haefliger told me, ‘If you are keen to explore this world in painting, why don’t you read Zen and the art of archery?’ I thought he was pulling my leg, but I read the book. It was written by Professor Herrigel, who was Swiss and, therefore, easier to understand than Suzuki. I read in the book how he went to Japan and how his Zen master told him where to put his right leg and his left leg, what to do with his right arm, how to aim and how to shoot. When he mastered it all, his Zen master said, ‘Now, don’t shoot; let it shoot’. The penny dropped, and I understood ‘let it paint’ for the first time. At that time I went to Alice Springs. The rocks fascinated me and became a constant subject to which I still return. The geological formations themselves were like abstracts. This painting is from that time.

James Gleeson: And it is based on an experience of Ayers Rock?

Judy Cassab: Of somewhere around Alice Springs.

James Gleeson: This is oil, and you’re still using a medium that you were brought up with, as it were.

Judy Cassab: Yes. The other painting is from the period where I was already painting with acrylics. Another discovery I made in the other painting was the juxtaposition of the textured surface and, beside it, the dense, plain, smooth area. That fascinated me for many years.


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