16. GARRY SHEAD
In 1922 the English writer D.H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda spent a few months in the New South Wales seaside town of Thirroul. In just forty-five days Lawrence wrote Kangaroo, his eighth novel, which is set in Australia and filled with vivid and sympathetic descriptions of the country, fusing lightly disguised autobiography with an exploration of political ideas at an immensely personal level. Garry Shead first read D. H. Lawrence’s letters while in Papua New Guinea in 1967. Lawrence’s response to the Australian landscape inspired Shead and, two years later in 1969, he followed Lawrence’s journey to Thirroul.
From his first encounter with Thirroul, roused by the words of this kindred spirit, Shead incorporated features of the surrounding landscape into his work. In 1972 he completed a collaborative work with Brett Whiteley entitled Portrait of D.H. Lawrence. It was 1987 before he settled with his wife Judith on the South Coast at nearby Bundeena, and twenty two years before these influences culminated in Shead’s D.H.Lawrence series of the early Nineties.
In his book dedicated to Shead’s D.H. Lawrence series, Sasha Grishin remarks that the paintings are ‘a personal, intuitive response to the novel, rather than an attempt to illustrate Lawrence’s narrative...The relationship is a tangential one, more of a perceived spiritual affinity and the notion of a shared common experience, than a text with its illustrations’.1
D.H. and Thirroulia is set on the steep escarpment at Thirroul, the electric blue ocean forming an alluring backdrop to the right. The three main protagonists of D.H. Lawrence’s novel – Richard Lovat Somers and his wife Harriet (whom allegorically can be interpreted as Lawrence himself and his wife Freda, or, indeed, Shead and Judith) and the enigmatic, yet ubiquitous kangaroo (represented here as a sentinel), are present. The kangaroo belongs to the country, and Lawrence throughout the novel refers to the ‘continent of the kangaroo’, but the visitors remain strangers, they are the intruders, spied upon until they leave. D. H. and Thirroulia is an enigmatic exploration of the relationship between the visitors and the spirit of the country, and forms an important part of Shead’s most admired series.
Capturing the essence of Australian myth-making, D. H. and Thirroulia works a new magic of its own in the imagination of the viewer. Essentially about Lovat Somers and Harriet, Lawrence and Frieda, Shead and Judith, the painting explores love and conflict; it emits notions of identity and alienation; it discusses the themes of spiritual presence versus human presence, and places it all within the context of Australian and universal values.
1. Grishin, S., Garry Shead: The D.H. Lawrence Paintings, G+B Arts International House, Sydney, 1993, pp.14-15