Menzies Art Brands



You make your own reality, there is no other rule.1

Garry Shead has been a consistent presence on the Australian art scene since the 1960s when he attended the National Art School in Sydney (alongside fellow luminaries Martin Sharp (1942-2013) and John Firth-Smith (born 1943), and studied under Jeffrey Smart (1921-2013) and David Strachan (1919-1970). Sheads practice has encompassed a deep inquiry into a number of mediums, including experimental film, but his dominant interest, the trope that links all his work, is the female nude: in particular, the female form signifying a divine feminine inspiration.2

The nascence of this preoccupation can be demonstrated by his exhibiting, at the age of sixteen, and while still a student at Church of England Grammar School in North Sydney, a small group of gouache paintings based on a magazine image of Brigitte Bardot in a bikini.3 Sheads mature body of paintings can be grouped into series in which the idea of the erotic muse is explored either indirectly, such as in The Queen or D.H Lawrence series, or directly, as in the Artist and Muse series, from which the present work is an excellent example.

In the early 1980s, Shead was at a crossroads personally and artistically and spent this time in Europe absorbing the works of Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) and Titian (1409-1576) as well as feeding his ongoing fascination with Salvador Dal (1904-1989).4 His diaries from this period reflect his careful attention to technique and style, something he may have felt his formal artistic education lacked.5 This was also the time in his life when he separated from his wife Catherine and fell in love with classically educated European sculptor Judith Englert; surely her background appealed to the part of him desirous of access to the European artistic tradition. Englert became his second wife, returning with him to Australia in 1983. This melting pot of emotion and inspiration was to manifest itself years later in the Artist and Muse series, painted during a period of great productivity in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

An imaginative and technical playground, the Artist and Muse series depicts the very moment when inspiration begets creation, Shead exploring on canvas the intimate world of European masters captured communing with their muse. Shead invokes Erato, patron of erotic or lyric poetry and one of the nine muses of Greek mythology.6 Often placing himself within the composition7 these paintings allowed Shead the opportunity to express both his own fascination with the erotic muse, and to demonstrate his significant skill and painterly knowledge in a circular homage to the inspiration he himself felt in the presence of the works of great painters.

Artist and Muse (Rembrandt) depicts the famous artist, who can also be read as Shead himself, embracing Erato on his knee. The muse is luminescent, either from her own internal light or bathed in light from the open door through which we glimpse a blindingly bright crescent of Australian coastline. The artists model continues to pose, surreally positioned on a staircase, patiently observing or perhaps not even seeing the tender embrace occurring in front of her. By the open door, a potent symbol of new beginnings, hovers the artists easel, also patiently waiting for genius. This unique melding of location and person, time and place, breathes new life into the enduring concept of the muse, while the semi nave rendering of the characters softens, sweetens, and makes relatable the agony and ecstasy of artistic creation.



1. Grishin, S., Garry Shead and the Erotic Muse, Craftsman House, Sydney 2001, p.81
2. ibid, p.11
3. ibid, p.14
4. ibid, p.79
5. Grishin, S., Garry Shead: Gentle Lyricism, Australian Art Collector, issue 40, April-June 2007, (accessed 26 November 2019)

6. Grishin, S., Garry Shead and the Erotic Muse, p.78
ibid, p.174


Corinna Cullen BA MA (Art History and Curatorial Studies)

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