Saturday, September 19, 2009

Tony Tuckson -"Pairs," Watters Gallery Darlinghurst

I wandered into this gallery, knowing that I could reliably find something interesting at this iconic space of choice of many Sydney artists . I didn't even know that Tony Tuckson was on here, and what a joyful discovery that was!

I must preface this review with a comment: I often think that the work of deceased artists is denigrated by the post-humus exhibitions conducted by their galleries, digging up anything that is half decent and offering it to the name-hungry art "connoisseur" (with an understood tag line "buy now, very limited stock available"). Many artist's private musings, thoughts and scribbles alike are bundled up with drawings and artwork yet to be finished or to survive the artist's editing process and offered as works of value from a genius' mind. I understand that these items have an academic use, and students of art and history love and need to know what the artist was thinking, musing and scribbling about. But I think that the artist's gallery should donate such work to the appropriate galleries or museums and resist the temptation to make money, while protecting and enhancing the reputation of the artist who, in life, has enriched them in more ways than one.
That said, this exhibition does not fit the above category. Many of the works are easily identified as Tucksons, with the added bonus of displaying the influence of Ian Fairweather -two for the price of one! (According to Frank Watters, Fairweather was one of the few artists whose work Tuckson owned.) I hadn't picked up this influence before, but these works display the link so clearly that I think I must have been blind not to realise it. That discovery alone is worth seeing this exhibition.
But -there's more. Tuckson reveals himself to be a master of gouache - the way he moves it around the page and lets it dribble and fall shows a skill level easily as strong as his oil works, for which he is better known. Further, the sheer volume of the sketches, mostly in ball point pen, emphasises the dedication of this artist who must have been drawing every minute he wasn't being the (full time) Deputy Director at the Art Gallery of New South Wales! No lunch break for this guy.
Some of the works show an obvious influence from Picasso and other artists, being executed in a search to discover and internalise how these works were made - the "art" in the paintings. My only criticism of the show is that none of the works have a date on them so I can locate them in Tuckson's history and in relation to what was happening in the world at the time -but that's probably because they weren't dated by the artist, whose full time job seems to have allowed him a freedom to paint and draw whatever he pleased, without concerns for his "career" as an artist or where the next dollar was coming from (a lesson duly noted by this artist!)
Apparently, these works would not have been able to be exhibited even a few years ago, such was the state of the paper that was used -any piece that came to hand. However, the Watters staff were insistent that these works needed showing, and discovered that a lengthy process of lamination onto a special Indian, acid free paper would preserve them. This and the framing costs mean that the gallery stands to make little profit from this exhibition.
Do yourself a favour and go see it - on till 3rd October
Image: Tony Tuckson, td2914 Gouache on paper 55.9 x 78.6cm

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