He was drawn to surrealism as an artistic language capable of articulating the violence and unreason he saw overtaking the world; like many surrealists, he was also fascinated by the world of the unconscious mind revealed by Freud and Jung.
Gleeson travelled to Europe in 1947-49, sharing a studio in London with Klippel, who became a lifelong friend. From there he proceeded to Italy, where the revelation of humanism and classicism turned him away from the grim vision of Citadel. For the next two decades he produced relatively few works, most of which were small and in a distinctive idiom combining elements of surrealism and symbolism with prominent male nudes that were rather closer to bodybuilders than to figures of the classical canon.
Although Gleeson often expressed deep pessimism about human nature, he was in person a gentle, charming and distinguished man, probably the most widely read and cultivated of Australian artists. In 2006, he and his partner Frank O’Keefe pledged all their assets to a foundation intended to help the Art Gallery of NSW.
Many works viewable at the Eva Breuer site
Here are some “Recent Drawings” (late 2007) from The Watters Gallery
More images here
James Gleeson: Beyond the Screen of Sight (18 March – 13 June 2005) includes 120 paintings and works on paper from public, corporate and private collections throughout Australia. Many of these works have not been seen since their initial exhibition and several have been recently repatriated to Australia.
Travelling abroad for the first time in 1947, Gleeson absorbed the works of old masters and key figures in the history of twentieth century art. His monumental image, Italy, 1951, celebrates the extraordinary cultural achievements of the Western world, but also alludes to the sense of loss and destruction caused by the Second World War. Gleeson’s paintings of the latter 1950s reveal an increased interest in showing the unconscious in abstracted forms. Admiring the distinct surfaces of the paintings by Max Ernst, Gleeson experimented with pressing sheets of polythene onto wet paint in order to achieve effects that provided infinite possibilities and increased tactility. Occasionally he combined this process, referred to as decalcomania, with the palm of his hand and finger-tips to provide additional passages of heavy impasto. During these moments, Gleeson came closet to merging Surrealism with Abstract Expressionism.
Blessings, Brother James