Menzies Art Brands



The Love on Mount Pleasant suite of paintings by Garry Shead (b.1942), is one of the artists most significant bodies of work. Bacchus at Mount Pleasant 2009, encapsulates a little-known narrative that lies at the core of the nations cultural life. The extraordinary story surrounding its creation will assist in a further appreciation of the work.

A curious aspect of the suite was its long maturation. Maurice OShea (1897-1956) was the man who made miraculous wines along the gentle slopes of Mount Pleasant at Pokolbin in the Hunter Valley. He is regarded as one of the nations foremost winemakers. The great vintner was the uncle of the artist Garry Shead: it was Uncle Maurice who gave his young nephew permission to be an artist. The story of OSheas love of the land, love of his vines and his passionate love for his young wife and muse, Marcia, is the subject and theme of the Love on Mount Pleasant suite.

In 1966, a decade after OSheas death, Shead mounted an exhibition at Watters Gallery in Sydney to honour the memory of his uncle after a visit to the Hunter Valley with architect Philip Cox. Both were deeply disturbed by what they saw: not long before a demolition team had been at work. Maurice OSheas corrugated iron winery at Mount Pleasant in Pokolbin, that had been the hub of a momentous outpouring of creative genius, was gone.

Considered an unsafe workplace and an eyesore, the old winery didnt stand a chance. The respected wine authority, Len Evans, pleaded in vain with the McWilliams family, who had been OSheas sponsor since 1932, to spare this singular piece of Australian wine-making history. Now the only records we have are in anecdotes from the few people who remembered the place, and the photographs taken by Max Dupain of the 1951 vintage. Thankfully, the unique character and presence of the structure was instilled in Sheads imagination. In fact, the old winery forms a good deal of the background in Bacchus at Mount Pleasant. The corrugated iron structure encompassed a workplace with its old oak stave presses and concrete vats, cellar, studio and library, living quarters and kitchen galley.  There was no electricity: all the work was powered by hand. The winery rose up from a dirt floor, and to keep it cool in summer, the exterior was whitewashed, intensifying the dynamic interplay of light and shade. Seen in all quarters were OSheas beloved cats. On chilly evenings, he was often seen strolling among the vines with one of the favoured felines draped around his shoulders.

In September 1921, Maurice met the young, musically talented Marcia Singer Fuller. He was instantly smitten. The one constant in Maurices life was his love for Marcia matched by his love of the vineyard. A proposal of marriage was accepted, yet there was the vexed question of religion: Maurice was a practicing Catholic and Marcia a Methodist. He was denounced and threatened with ex-communication by a Father Quinn, the parish priest of Cessnock. The drama of the forbidden union was captured in Sheads poignant work, Outside the Church 2009.

Bacchus at Mount Pleasant conjures the atmosphere of a ritual celebration that appears to be on the verge of deterioration. Bacchus rises above the tableau with arms outstretched, whilst his retinue of satyrs and a maenad dance and cavort with a bull on the fringe of the party. The black swan peering from the skylight of the winery represents Aphrodite, a goddess well aware of Bacchus playful indulgence and ultimate indifference to the human condition.

Gavin Wilson

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