43. GARRY SHEAD
Garry Shead is one of Australia’s greatest living artists and arguably amongst our greatest figurative painters with an impressive career spanning over half a century. Bedroom Tango c2000 has a spiritual-like responsiveness to the intricacies of human desire. It is a veritable foray into passion and lust between two lovers, as well as an insight into the artist’s ever-inquisitive mind.
The present work is a fine example of Shead’s most amorous series, Dance Sequence. Typical of the series, the male figure appears fully clad and somewhat inelegantly engaging the nude female in a bedroom tango. This painting is at once metaphysical and poetic with its allusions to both the physical and spiritual realms and of course to the erotic. As the artist’s biographer Dr Sasha Grishin observes:
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 Rene Magritte, Paul Delvaux and, later, by Baltus. Shead’s female dancers are of great sensuous beauty and lyrical charm. There is also a hint of at a more metaphysical dimension of this dance, relating it to the dance of life as interpreted by artists like Edvard Munch.1
The Dance Sequence series serves the artist as a sort of platform in which to explore his impressions of desire and lust; the toing and froing of courtship, and the mysterious magnetism between people that has the power to draw us tightly together or pugnaciously repel us apart. The series also illustrates the artist’s fondness for the Old Masters.
Rembrandt, Velazquez and Goya were all affectionately revered by Shead and the Dance Sequence is perhaps the most evident of the artist’s admiration of the rich colours and vibrant applications of the European giants of figurative painting. A harmonious combination is felt in Bedroom Tango with the romantic art of the past, the timelessness of love and the effervescence of desire. The use of tenebrism, developed by such painters as Caravaggio (1571-1610) in Bedroom Tango is palpable; Shead expresses light in this work by a dramatic use of colour. Like the Old Masters, the present work is set within a dim-lit space with its figures executed in a sensitive yet limited palette of ochre tones. The skin tones radiate like an apparition of the artist’s imagination. The extreme contrast of colour between the background and the two lovers add to the drama of the scene. Grishin makes a comparison of Shead’s use of light here with that of theatre, ‘The dance is performed on an allegorical stage, like the arena of life, sometimes with an awareness of an audience and sometimes under the hard glow of the spotlights.’2
Interestingly, the female figure seems more detached from the physical realm than the male figure. Her languorous leer into space implies a disconnection from her surroundings that perhaps suggests she is a manifestation of our male protagonist’s mind’s eye. She is a sensuous personification of his deepest desires. Shead has captured this delicate moment of private reverie with an astute and gentle nature, allowing the figures and the medium with which they were created to form and meld into one another as if the art-making itself took on a kind of dance in creation.
Garry Shead’s paintings are held in all state galleries, major regional galleries and important private and public collections, both nationally and internationally.
1. Grishin, S., Garry Shead and the Erotic Muse, Craftsman House, Sydney, 2001, p.166
Tessa Dorman BFA, MA (Art History and Theory)