Garry Shead is one of Australia’s most renowned artists for his poetic depictions of Australian culture and the essence of human love. Arguably his most powerful series, Dance Sequence, is one of the artist’s most adored series and includes the present work, Dancing up the Stairs 2001. The series is a platform in which Shead explores his personal impressions of life, self and the eternal dance of love; they also illustrate the artist’s admiration of the Old Masters.
The artist began the Dance Sequence in the mid-nineties and religiously revisited this theme for many years. The series exemplifies Shead’s struggles with identity as artist and man and was the precursor to his Artist and Muse series. Within the Dance Sequences series Shead projects himself into each painting, assuming the identity of the protagonist and participating as in a dream - emotionally present yet physically removed. In addition to what can be read into the literal interpretation of the subject matter, the artist’s presence is profound. Shead has reflected that ‘..a work of art must have its origin in the life of the artist himself. To express the great emotions is the purpose of a work of art’.1
The artist’s biographer, Dr Sasha Grishin, asserts that there is an erotic impulse driving Shead’s creative surge and is his entry point into his art making.2 In Dancing up the Stairs 2001, the two lovers are captured in an eternal embrace whilst looking amorously into each other’s eyes. The striking peculiarity of the work, like other works from this series, is that the male character is fully clad whilst the woman is all but naked. This mythical woman is perhaps an apparition of the artist’s latent desires; his sensuality awakened and explored through oils and brush.
One wonders; is this mystical Muse really there? Or does she exist only as a symbolic manifestation of our protagonist’s inner thoughts, like an echo of the darker, ambiguous, sensual and ever-longing element of lust that lingers in the dormant soul of The Dancer, and of course, Shead himself.
An element that certainly transcends the artistic visual plane of this painting is the poetic lyricism of the multifaceted subject matter that emanates from the concealed energy in his subjects and imagery. Grishin recounts: ‘Increasingly, these intimate interior settings allude to an ambiguous and seductive dream-like reality, where ideas and interpretations float free from gravity and verbal associations.’3
Shead attended Sydney’s National Art School where he acutely observed the traditions and methods of the old masters throughout his entire artistic career. Rembrandt, Goya, Velazquez and the likes were all keenly studied in Shead’s visual diaries and the Dance Sequence is perhaps the most evident of the artist’s affection for the rich colours and vibrant applications of the European giants of painting. A harmonious combination is felt in this work of the romantic art of the past with the timelessness of love and the effervescence of desire.
As well as being one of Australia’s most celebrated artists, Garry Shead has received significant attention abroad since the mid-sixties. His paintings are held in the National Gallery of Australia, all State galleries, significant regional galleries and important private and public collections, both nationally and internationally.
Tessa Dorman BFA, MA (Art History and Theory)
1. Garry Shead as cited in Grishin, S., Garry Shead and the Erotic Muse, Craftsman House, Sydney, 2001, p.12
2. Ibid, p.11
3. Ibid, p.166