Work from a single year in the career of one of Australia’s most important landscape artists, Fred Williams, is featured in a new exhibition at TarraWarra Museum of Art, on display until 11 February 2018.
Curated by Anthony Fitzpatrick, Fred Williams – 1974 highlights a significant year in which Williams explored a new method of painting, and a new palette.
“In the early 1970s, Williams broke with his traditional working method of painting gouaches when working outdoors, trialling a new method of painting oil sketches en plein air,” said Fitzpatrick. “Seeking to renew and deepen his relationship to the environment, the artist undertook numerous field trips to a variety of locations around the outskirts of Melbourne, where his acute observations were translated directly onto canvas with a sense of spontaneity and immediacy.
“At the same time Williams was exploring a new palette, invigorating his work with a greater level of expressiveness in both the range of colour and the handling of the paint.”
Beginning with the large-scale work Lilydale Triptych I (1974) in the TarraWarra Museum of Art collection, this exhibition brings together several paintings from 1974, a period in which these new approaches coalesced and found full expression. Patrick McCaughey describes 1974 as “one of the most turbulent and productive years Williams had ever known.”
The exhibition also brings to the fore a significant new element which was a notable aspect of a number of paintings produced in this highly productive and innovative twelve months – the presence of human intervention in the landscape. Far from incidental features, built forms such as electricity pylons, roads, trains, quarries and buildings, are important devices in structuring these compositions.
“Shown together in the North Gallery of TarraWarra Museum of Art and in direct proximity to views of the multi-layered landscape of the Yarra Valley, the selection of oils in Fred Williams – 1974 provides an opportunity to reconsider this dynamic and adventurous period of transition in the artist’s ongoing project to apprehend the unique, experiential qualities of the Australian landscape.
Having chosen not to exhibit commercially for several years it is perhaps unsurprising that when the artist first exhibited some of these works in Recent paintings 1974 at Rudy Komon Gallery, Sydney in April 1975 and a month later at University Gallery in Melbourne, they were met by critics with a mixture of astonishment and admiration.
The following astute observations by Margaret Plant highlight the strength of the reaction precipitated by Williams’s daring new paintings: “In the 1975 exhibition, Williams dissipated the tenets of careful geometry and substituted a rougher one. He has dislocated his characteristic colour scheme and, by implication, criticised his own previous careful touch…” she said.
“In so challenging the premises of his own art, Williams has … made a conscious effort to expand his own sense of his work … I see his rebellion as a rare and important example of an Australian artist, able to undo the safety net of is art: to paint dangerously.”
Fred Williams is widely acknowledged as one of this country’s most important artists and his works are credited with transforming our perception of the Australian landscape. His depiction of the Australian landscape encompasses both the broad perspective of the panoramic vista and intimate observations of the natural world.
During his lifetime, Williams’s works found acclaim both here and overseas and in 1977 he was the first Australian artist to hold a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, exhibiting 40 gouaches from over a decade of his practice.
Since his untimely death his works have continued to be widely exhibited nationally and internationally including a major exhibition at the British Museum in 2003. Williams’s work is represented in the National Gallery of Australia and all State galleries and major regional galleries as well as many other significant public and private collections in Australia. His work is also represented internationally in the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection in New York, and the British Museum, the Tate and the Victoria & Albert Museum collection in London.
Fred Williams – 1974 will be shown concurrently with Rosemary Laing, curated by Victoria Lynn, the first large scale exhibition of Laing’s work in Victoria. Building on one of the key exhibition themes at TarraWarra Museum of Art, this exhibition focuses on Laing’s interest in the exchange between art, place and ideas.
Fred Williams – 1974
TarraWarra Museum of Art, 311 Healesville-Yarra Glen Road, Healesville
Exhibition continues to 11 February 2018
Admission fees apply
For more information, visit: www.twma.com.au for details.
Image: Fred Williams, Lilydale Triptych I 1974, oil on canvas, overall: 105 x 272.5 cm. TarraWarra Museum of Art collection, Gift of Eva Besen AO and Marc Besen AO – Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2008. © Estate of Fred Williams