69 John St's first year has flown by and looking back on the artworks that have come and gone, we can't help but reflect on some of our favourite pieces that found loving homes in 2014. Some of our favourite sold works are listed below:
1. Jeffrey Smart, The Owner 1964
The popularity of Jeffrey Smart on the Australian art market increased dramatically this year so it did not come as a surprise when we had several immediate enquiries when The Owner was first delivered to 69 John St.
The work is intriguing from the start with a white bed sheet draped outside an open window and what we can assume is The Owner on the lower balcony. The inscription on the back provides further clues as to the story unravelling before us: THE OWNER/ OUTSIDE ATHENS/ SYLVIA/ PLEASE.
With what reads as the owner pleading with Sylvia we can perhaps imagine that he is not pleased with Sylvia airing their "dirty laundry". Beyond these clues the full story remains, as does many of Smart's works, a mystery.
Painted in 1964 when Jeffrey Smart travelled around Greece with fellow artist Justin O'Brien, it is characteristic of the works Smart was painting at the time. The strength of the shadows hints at the sun to the side and clear sky elsewhere and yet we as the viewer are treated only to the dark and cloudy mass in front of us. It is up to us to imagine the sun and fill in the gaps.
The bald headed man is a reoccurring figure in Jeffrey Smart's works and there is much debate as to what the figure is and what he represents. Some have suggested that he is actually a self portrait of Smart at a later age, others suggest that his Alfred Hitchcock appearance may indeed be inspired by the director or perhaps the man is just meant to represent a certain type of person.
White, well-rounded and almost always standing in authoritative stance as he is in The Owner or sometimes staring directly back at you as the man is in Luxury Cruise 1972-73 or even staring back at you up-close through binoculars in The Observer II 1983-84, we get the impression he is control of the vast landscapes Jeffrey Smart paints him in. The man's direct engagement with the viewer places him in a position of power that is not granted to all of Smart's subjects.
Jeffrey Smart's highly finished works with their opens meanings and slightly sinister feeling are fascinating artworks to study and The Owner was one of our favourite works for those very reasons.
2. Marea Gazzard, Shield 1969
Marea Gazzard was a perfectionist, throwing away and destroying the works that she created that failed to meet her own high standards. That is what makes all of her remaining works so interesting, because they survived her own rigorous culling process.
Marea Gazzard was instrumental in changing the perception of craft in Australia which had previously taken a back to seat to the fine arts (painting, large scale sculpture etc). It was Gazzard who founded Craft Australia and in 1968 she was elected to the World Crafts Council.
Her timeless ceramic vessels and bronze sculptures reflect the influence of her family's Greek heritage (Gazzard once told the story that the shape of a flattened fig inspired the form for many of her vessels). This Greek influence is combined with Gazzard's fascination with the raw and roughly textured surfaces of the Australian outback and longtime interest in Aboriginal carvings. The result is a painstakingly crafted Modernist piece that bridges the gap between what was traditionally viewed as art and craft. Shield 1969 is a signature ceramic by Gazzard, wonderful not only for its beauty and design but also for its practical use.
3. Hayward Veal, Beach Scene
Sometimes the most sought after works are not the works with the biggest price tags, nor are they the works with the most famous names behind them. Sometimes an artwork will come into the gallery and is admired simply because it allows your eye to rest on it for along time before you feel the need to look away. This small but beautiful oil by Hayward Veal was one such artwork.
From the moment we introduced Beach Scene into the 69 John St showroom we had many enquiries.
Associated with the Max Meldrum School of Painting in Sydney and Melbourne, Hayward Veal became an established figure on the international art scene after he and his wife moved to Europe in 1951 where Veal, regularly exhibited in the Piccadilly Gallery and had many articles published in the international art publication The Artist.
With a growing international following and rising reputation. Veal was elected president of the Australian Artists Association in London in 1953 and remaining fascinated with early Impressionism through out his career, in 1954 his book Impressionist Painting was published in Great Britain and the United States of America.
The relaxed subject matter of The Beach, the hot day come cloudy afternoon with two figures in the foreground leisurely lying down, seemingly unaware that fellow beach-goers in the background appear to be leaving before the storm hits, is a moment in time that many of us in Australia can relate to.
Veal's impressionistic brushstrokes emphasise the calm haziness experienced after a day of relaxation and I think this is where the true appeal of this painting lies. In a world where we sleep next to our mobile phones, a day of nothing, of being allowed to drift in and out of our own thoughts without interruption is a highly cherished rarity.
4. GEORGE LAMBERT, Unfinished Sketch "Timber Getters" (Wales) c1916-17
2014 marks the centenary of the First World War and as George Lambert was the Official War Artist for the Australian Imperial Forces from the end of 1917, "Timber Getters" seemed like a more than appropriate work to have in gallery this year.
Now residing in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, "Timber Getters" is interesting for several reasons. Beyond the fact that the time this oil was painted makes it rare (many sketches and oils from Lambert's time as the Official War Artist exist but few do from the year before) it provides a fascinating insight to the way Lambert not only constructed his oils, but also highlights the back-breaking work performed on the home-front.
Lambert's time as a Divisional Works Office in the Timber Supplies Department in Wales overseeing the construction of timber duckboards used on the Western Front was not a happy time for Lambert. Exhausted and overworked, we can almost feel the pressure Lambert was feeling through the men performing the gruelling task of sawing timber in the foreground.
In the midst of this scene a horse stands tall and proud as if a symbol of strength and conviction during a time of weariness. Lambert had an enduring love for horses even before the First World War with the horse holding an important place in the Australian rural identity. When Lambert came into contact with the men of the Light Horse, horses were featured as heavily as the soldiers.
5. Cressida Campbell, Shelf Still Life
Ask anyone in the art market to list the most collectable contemporary Australian artists and you can guarantee Cressida Campbell will appear on that list. With all the talk about Campbell's popularity and Campbell being the 'artist of the moment' it is easy to forget that Campbell has been fine tuning her technique and style for decades and that her delicate and expertly executed woodblocks are the result of many years of dedicated practise.
Quite simply Campbell's woodblocks are beautiful. Each one feels like a visual feast and I think a great deal of the appeal lies in a still life's ability to make us see beauty in our own private personal spaces. Just as a holiday at home is sometimes more appealing than a holiday away so can the objects around us create a sense of comfort and content that can be missing in a five star resort. In a sense, Campbell's woodblocks are the opposite of escapism, the beauty achieved reminds us we don't need to look far from home to enjoy something beautiful.