The James Gleeson oral history collection

James Gleeson interviews Australia's major artists

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Frank Watters

15 August 1979 [unknown location]

James Gleeson: Frank, now the different artists who you’ve discovered or found and given shows to, could you tell us something about some of those?

Frank Watters: Probably the earliest new people we showed were people like John Peart whom we showed when he was 18—almost 14 years ago. He’s someone I’m still very close to and I really love his work. I just really admire the way he’s gone on changing and developing, whereas it would have been very very easy for him at one stage to stick to a very successful formula and he’d have probably done much better financially. But I like the way he’s gone on experimenting and changing and I feel the stuff he’s doing now is just much more exciting than previously. People also like David Aspden, who doesn’t show with us now but who’d moved on. David was one of the people who got caught up very much in the glamour thing.

James Gleeson: Yes. You gave him his first show?

Frank Watters: Oh, yes, right from the start. But David and I, you know, after all that time are now very friendly and, you know, we are back to some sort of real rapport. People like Richard Larter whom I just admire enormously and still do, but who’s an extremely—

James Gleeson: Is he with you still?

Frank Watters: Yes, and an extremely difficult person and I think one of the reasons he’s not better known is that he just makes it very hard for himself to be better known.

James Gleeson: I see.

Frank Watters: He just doesn’t like being in art books and things and he’s refused to go in many of them. But this is someone I think is still very underrated and I think enormously important. Well, the sculpture people, people like John Armstrong, of course, I think is terrific.

James Gleeson: Yes. He was certainly with you all the time.

Frank Watters: Oh yes. You know, I just felt a tremendous excitement when I first saw John’s work.

James Gleeson: They were exciting, yes.

Frank Watters: Yes, they were just wonderful. People like Imants Tillers more recently is another person I think is just absolutely remarkable. I think there’s been another whole group of people shown have been a group of women. We’ve always shown actually a lot of women artists. Vivienne Binns’ first solo exhibition I think was just one of the most remarkable we’ve ever had. I had friends drive 200 miles to warn me in the country that she was ruining the gallery. That was a great exhibition. People like Vicki Varvaressos I just think are fantastic. I mean different, you know. Again, they were all first exhibitions. There were sort of other women who, you know, had shown in other places first but who are now just much more at home with us because of the ideological background of the gallery. People like Jenny Barwell, for instance, from Maramont. It’s hard to track right back through all the people without having a catalogue to refer to. There’s an enormous number of people that we gave—I mean, of all those people in our 10 year show were people we actually—we restricted that to people we’d actually given first ever shows to. So that’s pretty telling.

James Gleeson: I remember a fascinating Nigel Lendon show.

Frank Watters: Yes, yes. We had a couple. The one with the big installation of the red thing I think was remarkable. We didn’t actually show Nigel first though. Well, he hadn’t had a really proper show. He did have some stuff in Sydney at Kim Bonython’s, but it wasn’t at home there and I don’t think Kim really liked or understood the work very much and Nigel simply wasn’t happy and things, whereas we loved it. I saw the exhibition at Kim’s and was really thrilled that we got a chance to show his work later. I think there is a thing of artists finding a gallery that they’ve got rapport with.


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