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Alun LEACH-JONES (b.1937; d.2017)

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“Once you start to realise you can become a painter, or a singer, or a dancer, you get a sense of, or taste of it, the only way you can become really major, is to just keep working, working, working. You cannot afford to let your guard down.”*

Alun Leach-Jones (1937-2017) immigrated to Australia in 1960.  Eight years later he announced himself on the national stage, as an abstract artist of significance, with his inclusion in the breakthrough exhibition, ‘The Field’ which was the inaugural exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria’s new St Kilda Road premises. Regarded as a landmark exhibition within Australian art history, it was a great honour for Leach-Jones to be recognised with the inclusion of two of his recent paintings. Conceived by the ground-breaking director, Eric Westbrook (Director 1956-73), the show itself was a celebration of radical abstraction in Australia, exploring colour field painting and abstract sculpture. Of the forty artists that exhibited nearly half were thirty or younger, the exhibition’s impact felt for decades. Of the artists involved, Peter Booth (b.1940), Sydney Ball (1933-2017), Robert Jacks (1943-2014) Michael Johnson (b.1938) Gunter Christmann (1936-2013), Clement Meadmore (1925-2005), Dick Watkins (b.1937) and Janet Dawson (b.1935) have had successful solo careers. The show was revisited at the gallery, April through August of this year, in ‘The Field Revisited’ an exact replica of the original.

For half a century Leach-Jones was principally based in his North Sydney studio which he purchased from the artist John Firth-Smith in 1963. He shared the space, celebrated for its light with his wife Nola until his death in 2017. It was the unmistakable intensity of the Australian light and the shapes and shards of shadow of this old building that formed the nexus of Leach-Jones’ abstraction, celebrated for its vivid colour and effortless approach to complex form, coined ‘hard edge abstraction’.

It is easy to see how the colours and light of Sydney’s North shore over the years have infiltrated Leach-Jones’ art. Leach-Jones’ sense of colour enacted on the canvas in blocks of bold colour is effortlessly measured. As an artist he never used straight colour from the tube, instead relishing the process of mixing, refining and ultimately the invention of a colour spectrum that is uniquely his. In an interview Leach-Jones describes his attitude to colour. “… it’s in the mixing that gives you a signature. It’s the pitch of the tone, or the brightness of the colour, the sharpness of the edge against a softer tone.”**

He continues:“Colour drives the emotion, and the structure of the work is what the colour hangs on. And it’s Baroque abstraction. It is immensely complicated and has a lot of energy. I work in a palette. It’ll be mainly, might be all red, or all yellow, or all blue – but it’s never quite that because there are so many colours in the pictures. It’s just a matter of what looks like a lot of colour, but it’s maybe not quite so much colour, but they’re put in different   positions, and that strikes you as something new and fresh.”***

Leach Jones’ work is in the permanent collections of major institutions globally, including: the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Victoria and Albert Museum and British Museum, London; and the Auckland City Art Gallery, New Zealand. His work is also held by The National Gallery of Australia and most of the state galleries. During his lifetime Leach-Jones had nearly one hundred solos shows. In May 2018, Nicholas Thompson Gallery in Melbourne held a memorial exhibition of the new paintings the artist was working on when he died.

*Alun Leach-Jones cited in ‘The Art Guide’, Clement, T., Studio, 8th September 2017

**Alun Leach-Jones cited in ‘The Art Guide’, Clement, T., Studio, 8th September 2017

***Alun Leach-Jones cited in ‘The Art Guide’, Clement, T., Studio, 8th September 2017

 

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