Tony TUCKSON | No title [White sketch]

Egypt 1921 – Australia 1973
Australia from 1946; Europe, United States of America 1967-68

No title [White sketch] c.1973 synthetic polymer paint on composition board
no inscriptions
213.5 (h) x 91.5 (w) cm Bequest of Lucy Swanton 1982 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
NGA 1982.2363 © Tony Tuckson. Licensed by Viscopy

  • the artist;
  • with Lucy Swanton;
  • by whom bequeathed to the National Gallery of Australia, December 1982
  • Tony Tuckson: Painting Forever
    • Art Gallery of South Australia 28 Mar 2001 – 11 Jun 2001
    • Brisbane City Gallery 29 Jun 2001 – 19 Aug 2001
    • Art Gallery of Ballarat 14 Sep 2001 – 28 Oct 2001
    • Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Arts Centre 15 Dec 2001 – 10 Feb 2002
    • Heide Museum of Modern Art 02 Mar 2002 – 05 May 2002
  • Abstract Expressionism: the National Gallery of Australia celebrates the centenaries of Jackson Pollock and Morris Louis
    • 14 Jul 2012 – 24 Feb 2013
  • Daniel Thomas, Tony Tuckson 19211973: A memorial exhibition,Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales 1976, no. 92, p. 30, p. 50, illus b&w[1]; the text component reprinted, with minor amendments, in Tony Tuckson, 1921–1973, East Sydney: Watters Gallery & Margaret Tuckson 1982;
  • Painting forever: Tony Tuckson, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia 2000, cat. 59, p. 6, 62, illus col. p. 59;
  • Geoffrey Legge et al, Tony Tuckson, Craftsman House: Fishermans Bend 2006, TR 209d, pl. 172, p. 202, illus. col. p. 156

No title [White sketch] c. 1973 is a calm and introspective painting. On a tall, thin sheet of masonite, the artist has painted a series of graceful, physical brushstrokes in white paint.[2] Tuckson seems to have worked with the board hung horizontally on the wall. Starting from a point about 30 cm from the right side, he made a fluid stroke to the right-hand edge then, looping back on the original mark, he trailed the brush the entire length of the board. From this ‘horizon’ line he worked down in a soft arc—echoing the gesture of the arm—and pushed the brush momentarily over the lower edge of the board before continuing this stroke along the lower edge where he finished it with a slight kick. Here Tuckson may have paused to replenish the brush, or turned it, before completing the third, final pass, roughly parallel to the line above. Flicks of red and pink from other works have later dried on unpainted sections of the board.

During his lifetime, Tuckson’s career as an artist was overshadowed by his role as arts administrator. On the other hand, his employment at the Art Gallery of New South Wales brought him into contact with modern art through the gallery’s temporary exhibitions, through books and magazines in the reference library, and via his connections with other artists living overseas. Daniel Thomas has noted a general shift in Sydney in 1956 as American Abstract Expressionism began to be discussed widely;[3] Tuckson was certainly familiar with the work of influential painters such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, albeit via reproductions. His study of other artists, and the museum-study tour that he undertook in 1967–68, were likewise important to his practice. Indeed, he demonstrates a fascinating assimilation of Western and non-Western sources in his work. In the early 1970s, as Tuckson managed to separate his curatorial commitments from his painting activities—taking responsibility for the collections of Aboriginal and Oceanic art—he had less compunction in exhibiting his work.[4] Recognition, after his solo shows in 1970 and 1973, was prompt.

Tuckson’s work reveals his process and, as many commentators have observed, his subject is the act of painting itself.[5] No title [White sketch] captures a moment of self-awareness, of quiet contemplation in painterly form. Tim Fisher goes one step further, reading the painting as a self-portrait, a ‘perceptive physical self-description of the painter—his size, balance and, remarkably, his state of mind.’[6] Tuckson combines the urgency of his American counterparts with an elegance of composition. Even in an oeuvre dominated by strong lines, the ‘sketch’ is unusual for its bravura—only in Tuckson’s drawings do we find such austerity and clarity of purpose. ‘The same old thing. Up and down and across and back,’ was his reply to a young artist who questioned him about what he’d been doing. His response was illustrated with large gestures.[7] If only it was quite so simple.

Lucina Ward

[1] Seems to have been lent to the exhibition by Margaret Tuckson [TBC]

[2] It is a format that Tuckson used often, in a variety of sizes: see, for example, White on black with paper c. 1973, synthetic polymer paint and paper on composition board, 244 x 122 cm, Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, and Pink with charcoal lines  1973, acrylic on two hardboard panels, 244 x 91.5 cm, Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney.

[3] Thomas points out that the work of American painters such as Pollock and de Kooning was known from magazines, while many Australian artists were already familiar with European tachists such as Pierre Soulages and Hans Hartung. Tony Tuckson 19211973: A memorial exhibition,Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales 1976, p. 12 or Tony Tuckson, 1921–1973, East Sydney: Watters Gallery & Margaret Tuckson 1982, p. 15.

[4] As deputy director from 1957 until his death in 1973, Tuckson was responsible for the Australian art collection until Daniel Thomas’ appointment as Senior Curator and Curator of Australian art in 1971.

[5] James Gleeson, for example, described Tuckson’s work as revealing the pains and joys of the birthing process: ‘He shows the making of a painting with all the travail fully exposed, without prettification or pretence that it hasn’t hurt; there is something almost shocking in the completeness of the exposure … ’ Gleeson, ‘The travail of painting’, Sun Herald, 22 April 1973. In a similar vein, Thomas has suggested that Tuckson’s abstract late works emphasized an inner, subjective world and communicated a sense of humanity, courage and freshness. ‘An introduction to Tony Tuckson 1921–1973’ in Geoffrey Legge et al, Tony Tuckson, Fishermans Bend: Craftsman House 2006, pp. 35–37

[6] Painting forever: Tony Tuckson, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia 2000, p. 6.

[7] Tony Tuckson 1921–1973: A memorial exhibition, p. 16.

The National Gallery of Australia holds 26 paintings and oil sketches by Tuckson, 14 drawings and numerous sketchbooks.