The James Gleeson oral history collection

James Gleeson interviews Australia's major artists

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Meeting Point 1970
Print, planographic. Technique: offset-lithograph, printed in black ink, from one plate
Gift of Roderick Shaw 1984
sheet 38.0 h x 28.0 w cm
This work appears on the screen courtesy of the estate of Brett Whiteley

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Louis James

5 August 1979

Louis James: Yes. I went away in '39 actually then. I was in the army in '39. Then in '45 I rejoined–I think it was '45, '44, end of '44 I think–the Lands Department and I was doing illustrations for a few papers in Adelaide. I think there was a paper called The Express and Journal which is defunct now and one or two papers like that. But they were simply black and white drawings again, and then I applied for a post-war reconstruction grant which I felt I'd earned. Everybody seemed to be getting them. It was rejected in way because the idea seemed to be, 'Well, you've got a very good job with the public service, why do you want to study painting?'. Painting seemed to be a crazy thing.

James Gleeson: I see.

Louis James: In way it was a very discouraging knock-back and the time limit at that time had expired and I missed it. I felt a bit angry about this, so I said 'Well, I'll either go to Melbourne to study or try to get to the tech in Sydney, or maybe to London'. I thought 'Or we might as well go the whole hog and move', so we sold everything we had.

James Gleeson: You were married at this time?

Louis James: We were married, yes, in '43 and we'd built a house and furnished it and we sold everything down to the last teaspoon and left it intact, and walked out and the money from that took us to London.

James Gleeson: But you had a show in Adelaide before that?

Louis James: I had one at John Martin's, yes, the gallery which existed then. I don't know whether it's still there, but that was a one-man show in '49.

James Gleeson: Forty-nine. What was your work like then? Were you working in oils?

Louis James: I think it was rather primitive, looking back on it. I have destroyed most of the works since then. I had a store. When I came back I kept certain things. I've seen one or two around actually recently in Queen Street, curiously, very close. But many of them I've got back and I went through them, like most painters do, and said 'I don't like that', and I destroyed a certain amount of them. Well, the reason for that was simply that after 15 years working very seriously and quite hard actually in London, coming back and re-looking at earlier work, you know, I realised that there are all sorts of deficiencies and inadequacies there.

James Gleeson: What was it like in a sense, was it abstract, or figurative?

Louis James: No, it was figurative; slightly primitive, I suppose, if I can use that word, in those days. I became very interested, naturally, in London, in what was happening at that particular period when I got there. So that coming back and seeing my earlier work it seemed to be something I felt wasn't quite what I wanted to be represented by.

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