By David Charlesworth
From March 21 to July 14, the work of an influential Australian landscape artist from WA will be housed in the Art Gallery of WA. Guy Grey-Smith’s career stretched from the end of World War Two, to his death in 1981 and is credited with bringing the modernist movement to Australia. Of the 120 pieces due to be exhibited, the Art Gallery of WA is lucky enough to own 58.
Grey-Smith first came into contact with art in a German prisoner of war camp. After his Lancaster bomber was shot down he received art supplies from his wife Helen and discovered his love of painting. In 1946 he decided to explore fine art, and attended the Chelsea School of Art and in the subsequent year he returned to WA to further explore his new found abilities. In 1953 he moved to England for 18 months, and this is when he came into contact with Paul Cezanne and the Fauvist movement. From 1954 onward he started to explore the use of bright colours, which is a defining element of Fauvism, and is prominent in his work due to be showcased in WA.
After moving back to WA he began taking family trips over school holidays to places around WA for inspiration. Travelling around WA he encountered larger landscapes, through which the scope of his work increased as well. As you enter the gallery you see examples in his earliest work how even from the start, landscapes dominated his work. As his talent progressed he began using much larger canvases and adopted a palette knife instead of a brush to apply the paint. The result was heavily layered and impastoed surface which seems to leap of the wall, the palette knife adding lines and edges to his work. In order to understand many of the paintings you can not think too hard. You must turn off your brain, as the work is meant to be felt as much as it is seen, as Guy Grey-Smith explains he took a very personal approach to his work, “all my paintings are derived directly, really directly from nature. They are realistic in so far as they have a truth to me, if it is only a truth of feeling, not visual truth, but a truth of feeling.”
Many locations in his work are easily recognisable, one such being Longreach Bay on Rottnest Island; a well known area to almost all West Australians. Displayed behind glass cases are photographs of the artist and his notebooks. From the notebooks you can see that while the paintings are deeply felt, each of them was carefully thought out. As you walk through the gallery you progress farther into his career and realise that the gallery is an exploration of the artist as much as his work. This exhibition gives not only an extraordinary glimpse into the work of Guy Grey-Smith but it also reveals the life and impact of this important Australian artist.