Newsletter 514

Published October 23, 2023
George Haynes, monographed in Perth

I’ve been travelling again and will be on the road continuously in the coming weeks. This means these newsletters may be a little slow to appear, as I juggle too many commitments. Today I’m in Perth, where I’m launching a monograph on George Haynes, for which I’ve written the major essay.

If you’ve never heard of George Haynes, that may be because artists can be legendary figures in western Australia, but largely unknown in the rest of the country. It has been forever thus, even in this age of rapid communications and constant travel. In some ways it’s a local echo of the way Australia is viewed by the rest of the world: just too far away. I don’t know when these things will ever change.

Another peculiarity in George’s case is that he has always been far more preoccupied with what he was doing in the studio rather than with the state of his career. He had a very successful show with Watters Gallery in Sydney in 1968, but when his gallery in Perth failed to reciprocate and host a Sydney artist, that connection lapsed. He featured in the Georges Invitation Prize in Melbourne in 1972, and was included by Patrick McCaughey in the show, Ten Australians, which toured Europe in 1974-75.

At that time, it looked as if a glittering career was there for the taking, but life has a way of derailing such fantasies. In retrospect, George probably would have needed to move to Sydney or Melbourne, and he had no desire to do so. Instead, he became a very successful and wellknown Western Australian artist.

The final obstacle to fame and fortune was George’s incorrigible love of experimentation. He has always set himself problems that become overwhelming obsessions, leading him away from a style of painting that had proved popular into another dimension. He has alternated between figuration and abstraction, and various combinations of both. He has dabbled in sculpture, with or without anamorphic distortions, and sometimes just made drawings.

He calls himself a daydreamer, but that’s not a dishonorable title for any artist. Give me the daydreamers any day, rather than the professionals, the careerists, and the ideologues. It’s tedious having artists impose their political views on audiences, even when we essentially agree. Give me the daydreamers, and allow me to formulate my own reveries in front of a work.

Now in his 80s, George Haynes is overdue for a book, and Art Collective WA has taken in the task – the most recent in a series of monographs on significant local artists, including Jeremy Kirwan-Ward, Eveline Kotai, Olga Sironis and Trevor Vickers.

So here’s to the older artist, the WA artist, the artists who prefer the studio to the cocktail party, and those who just please themselves. In this horribly uptight and moralistic era, one can only feel nostalgic for those days when artists were feckless Bohemians. A somewhat disorderly existence never prevented the best of them from creating large, impressive bodies of work.

The art column this week is one of those fragmented affairs that ticks of a bunch of entries in the latest Sculpture by the Sea at Bondi. I much prefer prose, but apparently “our readers” like lists. One of the unwelcome side-effects of this approach, is that I felt compelled (foolishly, no doubt) to include a few frivolous crowd-pleasers at the expense of more conscientious sculptures – notably John Petrie’s winning entry, which I came within a whisker of discussing. Petrie’s 23.5ºhas the kind of presence we associate with one of those large stone heads on Easter Island, but it’s an abstract work, the title relating to the earth’s axis.

In an ideal world I’d wait until everything was installed, and then make my assessments of individual works, but newspaper deadlines don’t allow for such luxuries.

The film this week is Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, which will probably loom large at next year’s Oscars. It’s a very fluent 3-and-a-half hours, with excellent performances from Leo DiCaprio and co. The real star performer is Scorsese, who – at the age of 80 – is the complete filmmaker. When one considers the praise lavished on so many dreary, amateurish first-time features, it’s reassuring to find that experience makes such a difference.