The James Gleeson oral history collection
James Gleeson interviews Australia's major artists | SUBSCRIBE TO iTUNES PODCAST
Painting, oil on canvas on composition board
73.6 h x 53.0 w cm
Listen to interview excerpt
25 August 1978
James Gleeson: Shall we call it Woman?
Grace Crowley: It doesn’t look much like one.
James Gleeson: It does. I think it is a very beautiful painting. It is travelling now in the Aspectsexhibition.
Grace Crowley: Yes, I know.
James Gleeson: It is dated 1939.
Grace Crowley: That’s right.
James Gleeson: You mentioned that it was shown in that first exhibition, Exhibition I.
Grace Crowley: Yes.
James Gleeson: And from there it went into the Evatt collection?
Grace Crowley: Yes.
James Gleeson: We acquired it from the Evatt collection.
Grace Crowley: Canberra acquired it from the Evatt collection.
James Gleeson: That’s right. At that stage, in 1939, had you begun working on a completely abstract—
Grace Crowley: I was just beginning. Balson was one influence. In 1937 the school at 215 George Street closed, so I lost the big room. At my place it was not so good to pose a nude model. So there were those two influences. Gradually from this I began to paint completely abstract, like these things here. There is one in the corridor that is a bit like this.
James Gleeson: Yes, I remember it from last visit. So the complete abstract began around 1940 or 1941?
Grace Crowley: Yes. I would have to check on that.
James Gleeson: But it was around that period. This was towards the end of your really figurative period?
Grace Crowley: Yes. Balson put on a show at Anthony Hordens in 1941 which was completely non-objective. That gave me a tremendous lift.
James Gleeson: That must have been the first non-objective show in Australia.
Grace Crowley: It was, I believe. That has never been contradicted.
James Gleeson: No. Compared to earlier works in your figurative style, which are more forcibly architecturally modelled, this seems much freer in approach. This one seems to be much freer in the way you have applied the paint.
Grace Crowley: Yes, I agree with that. I painted the portrait of Gwen Wrigley in 1930, or 1931. I sent in to the Archibald and it was hung, but it didn’t get the prize. Soselles saw it. I think that is one reason why he wanted to meet me when I came back from abroad in 1930. According to what I understand from your book, he came back in 1931.
James Gleeson: Was it a deliberate attempt to move from the more architectural type of treatment in this picture?
Grace Crowley: Yes, it was. It was difficult for me, because I had been tremendously interested in the figure in itself, and anatomically interested.
James Gleeson: The structure of the form.
Grace Crowley: Yes. The structure of the human figure absolutely fascinated me. So I guess I paid more attention to that sort of thing than did any of the other students in the Sydney Art when I was there. We had the skeleton and the anatomical figure, and I would trot along to the museum and make drawings there of hands—that sort of thing.
James Gleeson: A thorough training.
Grace Crowley: Tremendously interested. Then, when I went abroad and studied under Andre L’Hote, he knocked me to pieces for a while. In the end he told me I was one of his best students.James Gleeson: So that background of training was useful, after all.