Slide Show

22. JOHN PERCEVAL

22. JOHN PERCEVAL Beach Studio 1961

22. JOHN PERCEVAL

03Mar 2021
Lot: 

John Perceval’s 1961 painting, Beach Studio, captures the jovial atmosphere of the Aspendale beach house owned by his friends and patrons, John and Sunday Reed. Designed by Melbourne architect David McGlashan – who would go on to create the Reeds’ most famous home, Heide II – the house was constructed over a mere three months in early 1961.1 Nestled within the dunes above Port Phillip Bay, McGlashan’s low-slung modernist design paid homage to the classic bathing box, consisting of two pavilions linked by ‘an open courtyard of sand’.2 Much like the Reeds’ main home at Heide, the Aspendale weekender would become a haven for Melbourne’s creative talent, who would gather each summer to eat, drink and generally misbehave. Alongside Perceval and his wife Mary, the Reeds’ guests included Georges and Mirka Mora (who built a house on the neighbouring block), Charles and Barbara Blackman, Martin Sharp, Colin Lanceley and John Olsen.3 As gallerist William Mora later put it, Aspendale ‘was a place where very creative people could produce work in an environment where it was appreciated and not ridiculed. You were recognised as an artist, not as some hopeless ratbag who should get a proper job.’4 Aspendale’s importance to the cultural history of Melbourne was underlined in the 2007 exhibition Aspendale Beach: An Artists’ Haven, curated by Rodney James for the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery.

The present work depicts the kitchen interior of the Reeds’ Aspendale house, which has been artfully transformed into a potter’s studio. The bamboo roll-up blinds in the left of Perceval’s painting were a distinctive aspect of the house’s modernist design and adorned the windows overlooking the central courtyard. Perceval shows a potter hard at work, shaping and glazing his brightly patterned ceramics as a pair of tousle-haired children look on. The scene is animated by the artist’s robust and confident handling of paint, applied in pure colours straight from the tube. The jumbled and crowded atmosphere of this painting, engendered by a near absence of linear perspective, is typical of Perceval’s other interior scenes from the early 1960s.  Beach Studio is part of a small and highly prized group of studio interiors from 1961-62, including The Studio – Canterbury 1962 (private collection; sold Deutscher + Hackett, Sydney, 20 September 2017, lot 25) and The Artist’s Studio 1961 (Monash University collection, Melbourne).            

Beach Studio also makes reference to Perceval’s talent for pottery, which had been a central part of his artistic practice since World War II. The painting features many of Perceval’s contemporary ceramic designs, including a large blue-and-white teapot and a small table inlaid with painted tiles. Art historian Traudi Allen draws a connection between Perceval’s work with clay and his vigorous, tactile approach to painting:

Perceval’s application is reminiscent of Monet who expressed his wish to paint the space between himself and his subject. Perceval’s discovery of such an imaginary space, pushed forward towards the picture plane, may well have derived from his decoration of pottery. There was a desire to direct the viewer’s eye around the piece with the contradiction that it is also led into it. At the same time the ground, the pot itself, would tend to lean out.6        

Beach Studio dates from an exhilarating phase of Perceval’s career, when he had firmly established his reputation as one of the country’s most original and expressive practitioners in paint. Perceval was the winner of the 1960 Wynne Prize for Dairy Farm, Victoria and had the privilege of being included in the pivotal exhibition Recent Australian Painting at London’s Whitechapel Gallery the following year.7  

Footnotes:

1. Harding, L. & Morgan, K., Modern Love: The Lives of John & Sunday Reed, The Miegunyah Press in association with Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, 2015, p.286
2. Ibid., p.285
3. Perkin, C., ‘Bohemia by the Sea,’ The Weekend Australian [magazine], 8 December 2007, accessed February 2021: https://www.theaustralian.com.au/life/weekend-australian-magazine/bohemia-by-the-sea/news-story/f88340b821c2d16758f05f5b768cf9d4
4. Ibid.
5. James, R., Aspendale Beach: An Artists’ Haven, Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, Victoria, 2007
6. Allen, T., John Perceval, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1992, p.111
7. Plant, M., John Perceval, Lansdowne Press, Melbourne, 1971, p.78

Catherine Baxendale, B Phil (Hons), MA (Art Curatorship)