Menzies Art Brands



The art historian Sasha Grishin describes Garry Shead as precocious, talented and provocative; the artist belongs to the generation of figurative painters who rose to prominence in the 1960s a time when American-inspired abstraction dominated the Sydney art scene. Like his contemporaries Brett Whiteley (1939-1992), Martin Sharp (1942-2013) and George Gittoes (born 1949), Shead found inspiration in French cinema and the popular culture of cartoons. Even in his early art school days, the nude was consistently a subject of great interest and was revisited often by the artist.

The success of the Dancers series lies in its lyrical simplicity: a dancing couple, the female naked except for a delicate pair of black heels. Here, the pair are engaged in an intimate dance, the female gazing over her shoulder at her partner. There is a palpable tenderness between the two emphasised by the otherwise empty of the setting. The artist has created a softly lit, intimate space into which the viewer is invited. Through the drawn back curtains, the lights create a dramatic backdrop for the lovers. The artist depicts an avowed affection between the pair which creates a sense of distance between the subjects and the viewer, as though we are on the outside peering in. The artists biographer, Sasha Grishin explains, On one very basic level, there is the aspect of voyeuristic erotic wish-fulfilment, building on the Surrealist strategy of undressing the woman with the male gaze that had been so effectively employed by Ren Magritte (1898-1967), Paul Delvaux (1897-1994) and later, by Balthus (1908-2001).  Sheads female dancers are of great sensuous beauty and lyrical charm.  There is also a hint of a more metaphysical dimension of this dance, relating it to the dance of life as interpreted by artists like Edvard Munch (1863-1944).1

For Shead, painting is a way to express an air of poetic uncertainty. As noted by Grishin, the work thrives on ambiguity. When identities are not firmly fixed, then there is room for allegory and symbolism and the freedom of association which delivers a deeply personal reading uniquely relevant to each beholder.2

The Dancers series was conceived in the 1990s and is a direct reference to the pleasurable act of dancing: Shead also intends the works to serve as a metaphor for the dance of life and the path which a couple must negotiate through lifes journeys. Tango Lesson is a charming depiction of the artist and muse, his late wife, Judit.


1. Grishin, S., Garry Shead and the Erotic Muse, Craftsman House, Sydney, 2001, p.166
2. Grishin, S., Precursive Pictures, exh. cat., Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide, 29 April - 24 May, 2009, n.p.


Caroline Jones MArtAdmin



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