The James Gleeson oral history collection

James Gleeson interviews Australia's major artists

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William Salmon

28 September 1978

William Salmon: Well, I’m an early morning person and my wife isn’t, which is a happy thing because I think a lot comes out of your sleep. So I get up in the morning, have my breakfast on my own and go to my studio, which is 200 yards, as I said, away from the house. I work there usually straight through until about one o’clock, from about seven in the morning through till about one o’clock. That’s usually my painting day. Obviously, if something’s still on the go I’ll go back after lunch and have another crack at it. But usually the afternoons I go and do the farm work, you know, and a bit of physical thing. I find it gets rid of the frustrations and again is involvement in a sense, you know, which I think is healthy. I don’t know whether I said this at the beginning but it’s something that I want to say. I think I did actually, when I was talking about my youth. But for me, I mean, some people seem to me to approach their painting from art and find their subject. To me the whole process has been, despite the diversions when I went to the Slade and Art School and this sort of thing, has been that art has been a way of making sense of what to me as a child was a mysterious environment. I think if it weren’t for that environment I wouldn’t be an artist. I’m not interested in art per se.

James Gleeson: I see, yes.

William Salmon: I’m interested in art as an extension of a normal man. I mean, to me it’s a great tragedy that it’s become so specialised. To me art is a normal thing for every man to do, and in primitive societies most men do it.

James Gleeson: (inaudible) in one way or another, I mean, dance or painting or whatever. Yes.

William Salmon: Yes. People say to me, you know, ‘Isn’t it a bit butch for an artist to go chopping down trees and things like this?’. I say, ‘No, you know, to me that is a normal part of being a man as being a painter is’. I don’t really want to deny one side or the other. Although obviously, you know, I spend a lot more of my life and time painting.

James Gleeson: So art then is a kind of way of linking yourself into your whole ambience, your whole landscape, environment, everything.

William Salmon: I’d like you to repeat what you’ve said, you know, because to me that is the definition of what art is. Art is what makes sense of the whole of life.

James Gleeson: Yes, yes.

William Salmon: You know, to me it’s a sort of tautology. Art either is fundamental to man or else what the Hell are we worrying about it for, you know?

James Gleeson: Yes. …

William Salmon: If we’re preserving it because it’s an elaborate game of chess, well then, you know, I think we’re spending far too much time and money on it. To me it is exactly that. It’s a fundamental sort of part of human life.

James Gleeson: I absolutely agree with that.


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