Menzies Art Brands



Set in the New South Wales south coast town of Thirroul, The Mockers explores the dark biblical theme which fellow Australian artist, Arthur Boyd (1920-1944), depicted in his series of fifteen works painted in the mid 1940s following his discharge from the army. Here, Shead interprets the theme in his distinctive, lyrical manner by incorporating figures from his D.H Lawrence series with the coastal backdrop of Thirroul as the setting for his composition. D. H Lawrences poem, The Cross, may also be alluded to here in Sheads rendering of the Christ figure on the cross.

Shead discovered the writings of D. H Lawrence as a young man however it was not until later in life that the artist decided to commit to a series of works on Lawrences book, Kangaroo. When he began the series, Shead was living in Bundeena, just north of Thirroul, where Lawrence had lived with his wife Frieda in 1922 while he wrote the book. Sheads D.H Lawrence series of paintings are indirectly autobiographical; Shead is transposed into the figure of D.H Lawrence and Sheads wife, Judith, is the figure of Frieda. The paintings are not narratives of the book nor are they experiences of Lawrence and Frieda; Sheads paintings convey the artists affinity to the book and Lawrences association to Thirroul. Sasha Grishin describes the connection between Sheads work and Lawrence: the paintingscreate a rich and ambiguous fabric of visionthey are wonderfully vivid allegorical paintings.1

The biblical story of The Mockers tells of the crowds who witnessed Jesus crucified on the cross - he had told the people that he was the Son of God who was going to lay down his life for the sins of the world yet the crowds surrounded him, mocking the claims he had made and the helpless state he was in. When Arthur Boyd painted his work of the same name, it was in response to the horrors of the war which he had seen in newsreels: the Nazi concentration camps and the violence of battle. Boyd drew inspiration from the work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-69, Netherlandish) and Hieronymus Bosch (1450s-1516, Netherlandish) who depicted religious concepts in a characteristically dark, macabre manner.

Sheads rendering of the subject is characteristically dream-like: despite the looming figure crucified in the foreground, the clear blue sky and soft rainbow bring an underlying sense of hope to the composition. Two female figures stands at the foot of the cross, possibly representing Judith/ Frieda and a male figure stand to the left, a sulphur-crested cockatoo perched atop his head who watches the scene unfolding. The figure of Lawrence on the cross is naked, vulnerable, exposed; laid bare before the people. The onlookers are focused on the crucified figure however Lawrences gaze is directed towards the viewer. The backdrop of this scene is the unique south coast - Sheads Norfolk pines and scrubby growth faithfully depict the native landscape of this area. The coal loader and timber cottages in the background are markers which highlight the locales historical past and provide connections to Lawrences Kangaroo. Here, Shead successfully captures the essence of what Lawrence describes as the strange, as it were, invisible beauty of Australia, which is undeniably there, but which seems to lurk just beyond the range of our white vision. 2


  1. Grishin, S., Gentle Lyricism, Art Collector, issue 40, April-June 2007, accessed 24 July <>
  2. Lawrence, D.H., Kangaroo, D.H. Lawrence: The Complete Novels, Centaur Classics, 2016, p.72

Caroline Jones BA, MArtAdmin

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