The James Gleeson oral history collection
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A South Coast road 1951
oil on canvas 65.7 x 101.5 cm
18 August 1978 at 37 Cliff Road, Northwood
James Gleeson: Oh, yes. This one, Lloyd—South Coast road1951.
Lloyd Rees: That is a very important picture in relation to that period. I was always fascinated by this road winding around the forms of the hill. One day I suddenly saw my subject and I was able to get a space off the motor track and paint that on the spot.
James Gleeson: Whereabouts on the South Coast?
Lloyd Rees: It would be about four miles south of Kiama, looking north.
James Gleeson: Gerringong somewhere?
Lloyd Rees: Yes; Gerringong is about seven miles from Kiama. When I was painting that, Kiama would be lost over that hill, and Gerringong clearly visible at the back of me.
James Gleeson: I see. But quite obviously these rhythms of the roads and fences are emphasised in order to give form to that composition.
Lloyd Rees: Yes. That’s what I felt about that South Coast country. Realistically if you looked out in a colour sense it was often too green for me. So sometimes I’d absolutely bring the warmth into it. I would sort of link Bathurst colour sometimes with it. Finally, I found that colour in my later works became a very personal thing. I use the colour that comes happily.
James Gleeson:It’s an expression of your own feeling.
Lloyd Rees: Yes.
James Gleeson: To a certain degree it is here, too because you have imposed the colour you wanted on the subject, rather than interpret it exactly as you saw it.
Lloyd Rees: That’s right. With a lot of my painting, when I began to get a sufficient grip on things down the South Coast, I realised that I might be out the whole morning but I hadn’t looked at the subject once. I had been looking at the picture all the time, the canvas. The sense of environment— to be working on a headland and to get the ozone off the ocean, with the waves pounding—was to me what made it so important working out of doors. You may like to hear a little episode concerning this. An official in the Kiama Council, the health inspector, was very fond of art. He had studied with Julian Ashton. He loved art. If an artist came to that district he always liked to meet them, or to look at their work. The village signwriter had a lot of work painting the names, tonnages and so on, on the wagons. He had strict instruction from the official that, if ever he saw an artist working, to come and tell him. I was working on this one day when a car pulled up and three or four men got out. You cannot tell people they can’t look, but when I am working I get a bit grumpy, so I’m afraid I was not cooperative at all, and I heard that I got a very unfavourable report. They said, ‘He goes up and puts one stroke on, and then stands back and looks at it for half an hour, then puts on another’. I got to know them after that, though, and they were lovely people. They just loved art, and they didn’t intrude. But I wished I had been a little kinder to them.
James Gleeson: Lloyd, I find it interesting that when you’re painting outdoors—and you obviously were on this occasion—you are looking at the picture more often than you are looking at the landscape.
Lloyd Rees: Much more.
James Gleeson: It’s the landscape that creates the urge—
Lloyd Rees: Yes, almost the moment of creativity. That makes a picture. At this stage the drawings I did were merely enough to indicate the rhythm. A lot of them have not even survived. It is entirely different to the actual drawing period that precedes it. The thoughts were entirely on the painting. But I did want to feel it always. Having once started, that is quite true—the whole interest was on that.
James Gleeson: When you start on the painting, do you lay in the basic rhythms first, in the bold strokes of the movement of the landscape, and work from that?
Lloyd Rees: Yes. I always—however short the session—cover the whole canvas. I never start with a section and then move from it. I must cover the whole thing.
James Gleeson: That’s interesting.
Lloyd Rees: That is a very cultivated landscape. It belonged to the Potter family. I think a Miss Potter, who was a student at the university, more or less directed her parents to get a picture of mine.
The verandah, old home, Potts Point 1936
ink, pen and wash, watercolour
26.9 x 35.2 cm
18 August 1978 at 37 Cliff Road, Northwood
James Gleeson: It is one of my favourite ones, and I’m very glad we have it. This is The verandah, old home, Potts Point 1936. It is pen and ink with watercolour.
Lloyd Rees: Yes, that’s right. John Brackenreg was a terrific fellow to find drawings. He showed me that and I looked at it, and I said, ‘Who did that?’ This was a rare thing among any of these drawings; this was a commissioned work. Otherwise I would not, in the ordinary way, have set out to do that drawing. It was a hospital at the time, but I can’t tell you more. Undoubtedly I did it. The memory came back. I think the matron was leaving. It was a presentation picture. I would love to know the history. Have you got any history of it?
James Gleeson: No, we haven’t, except that it was an old house in Potts Point. There used to be an old hospital there, I remember, called Claremont. Does that ring a bell?
Lloyd Rees: It does, and that could well be it.
James Gleeson: I think it’s gone now—a long time ago.
Lloyd Rees: Yes, a long while ago. But that was a hospital.
James Gleeson:We can perhaps find out.
Lloyd Rees: Yes.
James Gleeson: But I do remember there was a hospital up there, called Claremont, in the 1940s.
Lloyd Rees: Yes. It has come back to me. I clearly remember it as a commission. Then I did get very interested in it. It was an absolute exercise in that sense. I put this slight lemony yellow over it, which livened it. It was one of the few errors the printers made in my drawing book. They never hesitated, where a drawing had tint, to print a double plate or so together. I just wanted that touch of gold over it all.
James Gleeson: We reproduced it in our catalogue of the Aspects of Australian Art. Have you seen this catalogue?
Lloyd Rees: Yes. There’s a slight tone there, isn’t there?
James Gleeson: Yes, there is.
Lloyd Rees: That is just what the print in my book lacks. That’s good.