29. ROBERT DICKERSON
Robert Dickerson was born in Hurstville in 1924 and spent his childhood against the background of the Great Depression in Sydney. From an early age, he drew compulsively and had a keen interest in art however, later in life as responsibilities increased, the artist came to rely on factory work and amateur boxing to provide an income. With the outbreak of the war, he enlisted and served for four years in the Royal Australian Air Force and on being demobilised, turned seriously to painting and started to exhibit in the late 1940s.
Dickerson was an independent, self-taught artist and his idiosyncratic art is mostly drawn from autobiographical moments and memories. His images of displaced people, clowns, geishas, children and sportsmen ‘strike a chord in the Australian psyche’.1 His art is characterised by a lyricism and melancholy which finds similarities in the art of Marc Chagall (1887-1985) and Georges Rouault (1871-1958). Dickerson was the only Sydney-based artist to participate in Bernard Smith’s Antipodean exhibition held in Melbourne in August 1959, along with other highly regarded figurative artists including Arthur Boyd (1920-1999), Charles Blackman (born 1928), Clifton Pugh (1924-1990) and John Perceval (1923-2000), among others, who through their art, were protesting the rising popularity of abstraction.
The artist was well-acquainted with suburbia, having lived and worked around many areas of Sydney throughout his lifetime. In the late 1960s, Dickerson moved to Queensland with his family and enjoyed the quieter life it offered however, he would come to miss the buzz of Sydney and in 1978, returned to Sydney. Dickerson and his wife, Jennifer, purchased a nineteenth century cottage at 34 Queen Street, Woollahra where they settled and established a studio. From the third floor of the house, Dickerson was able to see as far as the harbour to the east and Botany Bay to the south. In The Tenants 1980, Dickerson paints a familiar suburban street, most likely Woollahra or Paddington, where he lived at that time. The scene depicts two children playing in the street, nearby a male figure and a dog walk past; the image is an illustration of quiet, suburban harmony and most likely reflects the accord which existed within the artist’s life during this period.
Dickerson’s street scenes are arguably some of his most accomplished works and are highly sought after among collectors of his work. A street scene from 1954, The Bottle,2 sold at auction in 2014 and remains the highest price for a work by Dickerson on the secondary market, this result demonstrating the collectability of this subject. Other notable street scenes by the artists include A Street Scene 1960 and Boys and Billy Cart 1971, both in the collection of the Art Gallery of
New South Wales.
With an artistic career dating back to the 1950s, Dickerson made an extraordinarily significant contribution to Australian art history. His long and productive career came to an end in 2015 - Dickerson passed away at the age of 91 at his home in Nowra where he combined his passion for horses with painting. His wife, Jennifer Dickerson, reflecting on his path in life and art, observed ‘He has been swimming against the tide all of his life. It keeps him strong. The occasions when he has been going with the flow brought him intense discomfort; he felt he was weakening himself, and his art, and he knew adversity was a true friend.’3
1. Sasha Grishin, cited in Powell, L., Robert Dickerson: the Complete Graphics, Queen Street Fine Art, Sydney, 2002, p.8
2. The Bottle 1954, enamel paint on composition board, 136.5 x 152.0 cm, Sotheby’s, Sydney, 26 August 2014, lot 55, sold $183,000 (including buyer’s premium)
3. Dickerson, J., Robert Dickerson: Against the Tide, Brisbane, Pandanus Press, 1994, p.4
Caroline Jones MArtAdmin.