As one of the twentieth century's most revered and innovative artists, Fred Williams (1927-82) was an icon of Australian art. Williams revolutionised the way we see the natural environment through a distinctive approach to landscape. He painted all corners of Australia, from Tasmania to Far North Queensland to remote districts of Western Australia, but what is less well known is that Williams was also a regular visitor to Gippsland, especially in the years between 1968 and 1979.
In those years Williams visited Wilson's Promontory, the coastline around Walkerville and Waratah Bay, and the Agnes and Toorongo Falls. It was here, in Gippsland, that Fred Williams revolutionised Australian landscape through the use of a fragmented, 'strip' format, which enabled him to convey the sense of vastness of nature and its infinite horizons.
Gippsland Art Gallery is pleased to present this first major exhibition of Fred Williams' Gippsland landscapes, 'Grand Country'. The title comes from a passage Williams wrote about the Toorongo Falls in 1979, and is a fitting testament to his bold new vision for landscape that arose in Gippsland. Williams' accomplishments are all the more remarkable when it is revealed that he never learned to drive, but instead relied on the friends and family to transport him – with canvasses, paints and easel – to distant parts of the region.
'Grand Country' represents the first time that Williams' Gippsland landscapes have been united on such a scale.
The seventeen works have been generously loaned to the Gallery from some of the nation's greatest collections, such as the National Gallery of Australia and the National Gallery of Victoria. Further loans have been made through the Latrobe Regional Gallery and the estate of the artist. United for this special exhibition, visitors will see Gippsland as Williams saw it – a rich palette of colours, dynamic forms, and intense beauty. From beaches to fertile hinterlands to noble waterfalls, Gippsland brought out the very best in this virtuoso painter, through visions that are now accepted as some of the greatest works of Australian landscape.
There are many exhibition highlights, including Lightning Storm, Waratah Bay (1971-72), which is major oil painting based on a sketch executed at Walkerville in Gippsland in 1971 (also present in the exhibition). Here, the brooding skies over Bass Strait thunder and crackle with electricity, bringing out the ferocious colours and everchanging weather for which Gippsland is known. Another highlight is a trilogy of major works that highlight the rich colours and textures of the rock face at Agnes Falls, in South Gippsland, where the abundance of nature is masterfully captured.
'Grand Country' will be opened on Friday 9 August 2019 at 6.00pm by guest speaker Rex Irwin, Art Dealer. Complimentary refreshments will be served, and the public are invited to attend.
Fred Williams and the Coastal Strip
Friday 11 October, 6.00pm, Gippsland Art Gallery
To celebrate the exhibition ‘Grand Country’: Fred Williams in Gippsland, Art Writer Rodney James presents this illustrated talk exploring the coastal landscapes of Fred Williams.
$15.00 Non-members and $10.00 Members (non-refundable)
'Grand Country' will be on display from 10 August to 3 November 2019.