The James Gleeson oral history collection
James Gleeson interviews Australia's major artists
Noumenon XXXII, Red Square [Noumenon 1968] 1968
Painting, synthetic polymer paint on canvas
168.5 h x 168.5 w cm
Courtesy of the artist
23 May 1979
James Gleeson: Alun, we have, as you see, a fairly good representation of your work, particularly in the prints; not perhaps as complete yet in the paintings as we'd like it to be. But the first aspect of your work I think we represent is the Noumenon series. I remember that was a very large series of paintings which occupied you for a long time.
Alun Leach-Jones: Yes, that's true. Both in drawings and prints and in paintings the Noumenon series actually spans a period of about, well, say from '64 through to 1970, '71, '72 approximately. So it's about eight or nine years in which I explored in many, many mediums the sort of attitudes that you see in the Noumenon painting series. The paintings series itself numbers around about 90 paintings in the series. The prints number around about 40 prints in the Noumenon series.
James Gleeson: I know the one we have here Red Square is numbered 32 in that sequence.
Alun Leach-Jones: Yes, yes. In that sequence, yes.
James Gleeson: What does the word Noumenon mean?
Alun Leach-Jones: Its definition, well, it is the opposite of phenomena. It really means an object that comes into creation through pure intellectual intuition. It is basically a contradiction in terms because, as soon as it becomes a painting, it becomes a phenomena. But the roots of the phenomena lie in this noumenological way of thinking about reality, a sort of metaphysical way of thinking about reality. But, of course, as soon as those ideas are manifest, they become phenomena.
James Gleeson: Yes.
Alun Leach-Jones: It's in a sense a little sort of private joke of mine to name these phenomena Noumenon. But that particular painting you just mentioned actually, early in the series was a very important painting because the Red square refers to a central, almost invisible block. It was the beginning of a whole new phase in the Noumenon series where, within the confines of the circles squared, I started to introduce this plain old play with these hidden forms within the matrix itself. That was a very key picture in that the circle is squared by an outer square and then within the circle itself comes a hidden square again. It was the beginning of a whole play of those pictures which finally in the early seventies reached the sort of zenith in pictures like the Mark Beson painting Imperion which is a big 12 foot painting. But that particular painting that's in the Commonwealth collection was the beginning of that phase within the context of the Noumenon paintings.
James Gleeson: I see. So it's important as a stepping off point to a new development.
Alun Leach-Jones: It's very, very important in that regard, yes. At that particular point in time, too, 1969–you probably remember–much of the theory that was going on in painting, which was trying to eliminate an awful lot of so-called superficial meaning. I was trying to get back into the painting layers of meaning, because the Red square not only refers to a new direction of formal play in the work, but I was also making references to things like the Red Square in Moscow.
James Gleeson: I see.
Alun Leach-Jones: That amused me and pleased me too. While many of my peers were going in the opposite direction, I was going in this direction, and trying to sort of make the cake much more multi-layered in meaning, you see. That was one of the key paintings that started that phase.