The University of Western Australia
I was born in Perth in 1934.
My early childhood was spent during the Second World War. I remember extremes of emotion. Troops leaving. Not too many dads around. Spending important times next door watching old Mr Chapman working in his tool shed. Mothers talking about their husbands and sons at war. Soldiers on leave. My mother’s anxiety when my eldest brother was accepted into the army. The war’s end and the resettling after.
Without going into details, many of my memories of boyhood and teens I care not to remember. I have never lacked material comforts. In the area of emotional security and stability I was reared on a diet of great stress and extremes. By the time I had reached my early teens I concluded I would have to bear the anguish as a lesson in behaviour, how not to behave. By trying to accommodate the situation I became its conscience, looking at the right and the wrong, I took rather a heavy sense of guilt. Not for my wrong-doings, but for all the wrong and damage being done to all that I held dear. I mention this because I believe it helps to explain my life and its effect on my work.
The exhibition covers a thirty year period, it is only in recent times that I have enjoyed freedom.
My private world of art started in my earliest memories, going to school was an intrusion on my life. The older I became the more difficult I found having to absorb all the information which was presented as being so important. Each year at school we had a hobbies exhibition, this was the highlight for me. It was made very clear to me, art was in the realm of a hobby, and should not be confused with the real issues. Many times I was reprimanded for doing the thing which was so important to me. Had I been a scholar, and lived up to their expectations, maybe I would have been left alone. I was a failure!! Finally I was called to the headmaster and dispatched. “Gregson, in the sea of knowledge, some minds are as pieces of driftwood, they will absorb so much, then sink.” I drowned in despair. I gave what was left of me to the Leederville Tech. I had been there for a few months, my creative talent had been noticed, I was advised to go to the Art Department at Perth Tech. Incredibly I did not know it existed. After two years at art school I won an award as an up and coming artist. My old school magazine mentioned me as a recent old boy who had achieved success!!
In 1951, when I started at the Perth Tech, the art scene in Perth seemed almost non-existent. As I recall there was the occasional exhibition held in a small gallery in Newspaper House, St George’s Tce. The Art Department at the Perth Tech did not offer a full-time fine art course. It offered a Diploma in Commercial Art after four years. There was however a strong basis in fine art studies which was considered important prior to moving toward commercial art. I think it interesting to note, student contact hours were from 9am – 4pm each week day.
The first two years were mainly fine art subjects with great emphasis on drawing and painting. Instead of moving into commercial art I continued with fine art which I believe made me the first full time fine art student in Perth. This gave me the benefit of extra tuition from Howard Taylor, who as students, we all revered. Ivor Hunt was the head, there was Bob Thompson, together with a number of support tutors. Those student days were important to us all.
Before the end of the fourth year I left to take advantage of premises in King Street, they were attached to my father’s business, Gregson’s Auctioneers. Perth had such an influx of European migrants bringing with them their craft skills, I felt by making contact with them I would have the supply of work to establish a craft shop. It was called ‘Arti-Crafts.’ This was in 1954. At that time there was nothing like it in Perth. When the school year ended two of my student friends joined in to help me, Barbara Barton and Pat Bandurski. All this was very short lived. Early in 1955 after having just completed murals at L’Aurora Night Club in James Street, they were taken from Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings, my father gave me the opportunity to study in Paris. I arrived in Paris well into the academic year and fronted up to the Ecole des Beaux Arts with a folio of my work which was accepted without me having to go through their entry examinations. I was very fortunate for although there was little critical contact the students were very talented and hard working; there was great interaction. Having access to University facilities was enormously helpful to me.
I returned home to Perth and another reality. I was twenty-one and feeling panicky about doing something to earn a living. The family business had moved premises while I was away – a new building. I painted murals over the vast areas of the walls.
I was offered part-time teaching at the Tech which eventually became a full-time load. It was then the painter Kate O’Connor took an interest in me. I have fond memories of visiting her in her upstairs flat in Mount Street, where she lived surrounded by her paintings. I had a day a week teaching at Fremantle Tech. I was giving what was meant to be art and design classes to a group of kids, all girls, they had left school and had not been able to get jobs. I guess the Tech was offering them a mixed bag of bits and pieces to keep them occupied “to keep them off the streets,” I was told. Oh boy! What a handful to start with. There was no equipment so I made up great jars of pigments, got hold of brushes and paper, all very basic but plenty of it. Those kids were a wonderful lesson to me. Most of them had had a pretty rough spin and I expect not much credit had been given to them. They responded so well to the interest I gave – they were great kids.
At that time I was running a night class at the Fremantle Art Centre as it is now known, then it was in a sad state, its future uncertain. I was also running art classes upstairs at the Skinner Galleries in Malcolm Street.
During the late 50’s and early 60’s I painted numerous murals in country hospitals, restaurants, salons etc. In the 70’s I painted work for a number of hotels.
In 1961 I married Gail Golding. The second week of our marriage I painted a mural for the Student Guild at the WA University. After our first year of marriage we bought our first house in Darlington where we have lived ever since. Although I had studio work places they were away from home. I felt my art was a separate part of my life. During 1979 I built my studio alongside the house. It was the last year of a three year full-time teaching contract at W.A.I.T. although I had been teaching there part-time from 1971 after we had returned from overseas where we had been for eighteen months. In the early 70’s I was teaching part-time at Claremont Tech as well as W.A.I.T.
All those years since I had returned from Paris I had taught, punctuated with periods of time doing other things. Over the years teaching has taken me to summer schools and many country art groups. That last continuous period teaching was nine years. I had hung on to the belief that no artist should find himself permanent, in the sense of being secure and protected by the system. It was a token gesture to help support the idea I was my own man. Being part-time I was not involved with administration which meant I could give my full attention to the students.
These past five years painting full-time has been a period of self assessment, I look forward to the painting ahead of me.
Statement by the Artist from:
David Gregson Retrospective 1955-1984
I know when I am able to relate in depth my soul is there, my senses are exposed, and I am open to communication.
I believe without the giving of our senses we cannot perceive art. Without our senses what can life give us? Through knowledge we apply reason and do what we believe is appropriate. I suggest we over depend on our knowledge and give little heed to our senses. To be aware and free to perceive is being able to receive.
What joy it is to be on the receiving end of perception and yet how sad if we experience the day and cannot share it. Most of us live under stress from bearing the heavy weight of restrained emotion we don’t know how to use. To have the freedom of the heart and the freedom of the senses is to be close to art, for art lies in freedom. The catch is, if we have freedom, how do we handle it? I believe art is the control of freedom.
As with anyone who attempts to relate, we are bound to become involved. The joy, the despair, eager anticipation, anxiety, excitement and disappointment, they are all there for those who dare to extend themselves. The highs and the lows. It’s being alive, it’s trying to understand. Those statements which bare the soul are not to be taken lightly. It would seem most of us have with communication. It is not surprising for it could be argued we are not taught the skills. I believe we think our way through life at the expense of our feelings. Most of us have great need to give but our real problem lies in our inability to receive. Likewise I believe most of us feel we have so much love to give when our real problem is not knowing how to receive love.
When we relate we do so with the background of our experience. If we venture into an area outside our experience then we are going into the unknown. We take with us the little we know. I don’t think we can take anything for granted, for what we can see may be the surface concealing so much we have yet to discover. The art, in whatever form, will remain concealed from us until we are able to perceive and experience it. I am sure so much in the name of art is accepted or rejected without being experienced. The indifference is usually a cover hiding an inability to relate. If there is art in life and in living, it seems concealed for most of the time and treated with the same indifference.
We do not seem to have the understanding nor the skills to create an open minded capacity to co-exit and enjoy peace. If the arts have anything to do with freedom, then I believe they need to be appraised. It seems obvious to me if there is a lack of confidence to relate then there can be little or no communication. How can we know how to co- exist when we separate our learning into departments and factions. We create separation and not cohesion. If we are to enrich our lives we must place greater emphasis on communication in its broadest sense. How else are we to comprehend a multi-different, inter-related, interdependent whole, knowing that each element is dependent on the other to play its role in the overall concept. It is that recognition, that respect, which provides the control to make free expression possible, a controlled freedom.
I believe it is the process of appraisal with the desire to relate which is the great lesson in art. Art has been for me so much more than just mark making. The principles, as I see them, are fundamental to coming to terms with life. It is a life-time practice, an ongoing adventure into understanding. Being involved with art is an obsession. I believe it is something you have to do. There are so many forms of self-expression where we may direct our creativity. I cannot see why the very habit of living cannot be an art form. I believe the concept of unity can be realised despite the complexity of the differences which constitute the whole. It is that very richness of the palette which can make our experience of life so generous. In recent times, in the name of forefront creative expression, the specialists in their field directed art to a point of non-communication, in their search for the new they had lost sight of art, it had become a void. All that remained was their recommendation that it was art and important. The followers are creeping back from that dead end. So much had been denied to support so little. It has given those who would, the opportunity to wipe off all they have not understood in modern art. Whilst we are unwilling to relate we will continue to disregard and be intolerant to what we do not immediately understand. With a desire to know, we will attempt to understand, education will follow.
In conclusion, I have tried to communicate my awarenesses and observations formed over a number of years. I have stressed my belief that unless we can become personally involved, the richness of life will be wasted on us. With my experience in teaching art I have had the privilege of encountering people with the capacity for great awareness. I have shared and learnt with them. I believe we have much to reconsider in our approach to learning. I feel we are in our infancy of human understanding. I don’t profess to know all the answers, but I do know, despite all the problems, life can be a magnificent obsession.
Learning to relate to your subject is one of the great lessons in art
Australian Artist Sept 1993. Published by Elladrent Pty Ltd.
I like to introduce the main characters right at the beginning and work on the painting as a whole, maintaining balance as I go, giving marks to the painting with the maximum intent – a delicate touch or a sweeping stroke. The languages of mime, dance and music are very much with me.
My brush is like a conductor’s baton. The music in front of me is my subject. I am painting it as I read it. The members of the orchestra are all those elements about me that make up the whole experience; the palette system, brushes, water, the painting itself, the subject, the mood of the day, air temperature, and whatever comes into my consciousness. All this eagerly offers its potential. When I am in full flight, that is, when my perception is at its keenest, I can hardly keep up with the flow.
You might imagine excessive discords can be very hard to accommodate in all this – perhaps taking the form of someone coming up wanting an in-depth discussion. In reality, discords do happen in the process of painting, as they do in other forms of communication. If these are intense they take over or break up the affair, and they need to be stopped before this happens, but I would like to stress that when I say maintain balance as you go while working on the thing as a whole, I don’t want you to think that the aim is to keep harmony at all costs. Discord can play an important role, as does harmony and all the shades in between. All the experiences around me have an effect on the work, all play their roles in the marvellous scheme of things.
The orchestra I’m talking about contains the know-how and all the past experience on which we draw. If we practice using our senses, intuition will tell us what to do. Perhaps we need to let go.
Gradually we will let go our superfluous baggage, including our personal shield and the bag of tricks containing self-deception, pretence, assumptions, self-conceit, and pomposity. There are institutions of it. Now there is an over sustained discord. What a bag to carry, and what a waste of time and resources. With less artfulness and more art in our lives, we may come to our senses. With patience, we may then discover the artistry of living in a world at peace.
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE WAY I WORK
I was born in Perth, Western Australia. Studied art in Perth before going to the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Thirteen years ago, after many years of teaching, I gave it up to concentrate entirely on my work. I have rarely exhibited outside Perth, although my work is scattered far and wide.
The subject matter I use covers a wide range of interests. I work both in the studio and out in the field, working directly from the subject. For instance, during the European summer of ’92, I was painting in Provence, France. I have recently completed a series from New Norcia, a Monastery Town north of Perth. The work in progress is of the Church in New Norcia. The other pieces are from the series, they are all works on paper using gouache.
I seem to like working best in a direct spontaneous way, with the fullness of my intent behind the gesture. I think in the abstract, although my work has never been far removed from representation. Often the subject provides only the means for me to express my feelings.
I believe, if we are to really experience life and art, it is a doing thing and not a talking thing. I find it takes continuous practice to be any good at it. No-one who has the courage to try could ever say it is easy, and yet, how fortunate we are to play a part.
Many years ago I wrote, “I believe it is the process of appraisal, with the desire to relate, which is the great lesson in art.” So much has been written about the visual arts. The “art” will remain concealed from us until we are able to perceive and experience it. I am sure so much in the name of art and life is accepted or rejected without it ever being experienced.
It would seem reasonable to say before one could expect to perceive art, one should have an enlightened and yet open-minded visual intelligence.
It could be said that regardless of how in-depth our understanding, how acute our perception, we can only be aware of what we already know, and therefore, may carry a bias and find the unfamiliar unacceptable.
In the search for the new in art, anything familiar could not be considered new or original. If that were so, then to qualify as “new” or “original”, it would have to be totally unfamiliar and outside our comprehension.
We do not seem to be able to clearly define what art is, and all this talk about its definition is really the concern of those who need to have their say about art, those who need to categorise art – the art historian and critic. With life and art we endorse much that is not a compliment to our intellect and our senses. So much is denied to support so little. How can we know how to co-exist when we separate our learning into departments and factions! We create separation and not cohesion. Surely if we are to enrich our lives we must place greater emphasis on communication in its broadest sense.
I believe with life and art, if we really have the desire to relate, we will strive to understand, and enlightenment will follow. In the process we will know the joy, the despair, eager anticipation success and failure – all part of the learning process.
I suggest you should set about your painting as an exercise, and attempt to relate. Allow yourself to be fully involved in the process. Don’t set about trying to make a picture look like a picture. Instead let the end result be the conclusion of the affair. There will be very little of ourselves in our effort if we need to ask, “Show me what to do?” Try to have the strength of your own conviction and put it down with your full intent. If you do you will see whether it works, or it doesn’t. If you hint at it you will be left unsure.
I would suggest most of what we do and think is habit and attitude that we have accepted through a process of conditioning. Expressions of the real self may rarely be seen or heard. For most, being able to question or express a personal opinion is very difficult. If this is not practiced we will look for ready-made opinions. Sadly, over time, the greater number of people slip into complacency and just “go with the flow”.
It is clear many move to forms of anti-social behaviour as an aggressive outlet for their frustrated emotions. Many people are suffering, believing they have so much to give, if only they could find an outlet. I believe the problem is an inability to receive. It is all there, waiting for us to receive, if only we were encouraged to use our perception.
All this has so much to do with art and life. We are not living in a perfect world, so much is out of balance. Much of human expression is a cry against our own inhuman behaviour. It would be naive to suggest there could be a world totally at peace and free from conflict. Yet I believe it is possible to have a controlled balance – to make possible a coexistence of all the differences that make up the world. A controlled freedom would ensure lines of communication are always open so we could never lose sight of the whole, this world, our world, where, with respect, we may practice the process of appraisal with the desire to relate. I believe all we can learn in life and art is to see as a whole and to know, it is our privilege to take part in this, the great adventure.
My belief is that each one of us in the theatre of life plays the multi-role of playwright, producer, director, actor, audience, critic and there, looking over our shoulder, are the past, present and future. I think of painting as a performance, the bringing together of many differences to make up the whole. A language of mark making, of gestures directed to perform the story of one’s awareness, both objective and subjective.
All the senses are involved. I feel close to the language of dance, music, theatre, and the language of the written word.
I think if we have the courage to expose our senses and our knowledge we will clearly see our strengths and weaknesses, but we will also know where we stand. We can spend so much of our lives defending the little we know. The shield we carry protects that which we believe is important as well as the fears and uncertainties that caused us to carry this shield. From this stand there can be little communication.
If you are still with me, you have determined I am something of an idealist with the romantic idea that life is worth celebrating. I hope I have conveyed to you that I don’t think creative expression is found in a recipe on how to do it. You may have gathered I am suggesting there can be little communication without a willingness to relate. Not in an unquestioning way, nor from a point of defence, but with the limit of one’s perception, with the desire to extend one’s awareness.
There is no one way of approach. The approach and techniques of painting are only limited by our own imagination and the limitations of the materials we use. It is up to us to explore their potential and to find the means which best suits us.
HOW TO MAKE A START
If I am working from the subject, before I start, I like to experience the mood of the thing and to read the performance. The interrelationship of structure, the variations on themes, the rhythms, the performance of light, of colour, simply, to read it, so I will know what it is that I want to share and express. The feedback may be instant or slow to give away its interest. Of course, it goes without saying, I am approaching this with the background of all my experience. It is as I have said, a preparation to relate in readiness to give and receive. As I am relating I am also relating to my equipment, the painting surface, the palette system, the colours, brushes and all that is necessary to contribute to the performance. All this becomes an extension of myself. For good measure I like to embrace the world! I feel an inner, and a physical balance.
By now I have introduced the base colours to my palette, these with the chosen brushes, are the instruments I have chosen to perform on this stage, the painting surface. As I have said, I relate to the thing as a whole and I therefore work on it as a whole. I like to introduce the major performers early in the piece and away I go, playing it as I perceive it. If I am relating well, the work will flow.
Often I think of these works from the subject as being the result of a pleasant chat. Not a “chit chat” about niceties, but the pleasure of sharing a brief, but in-depth experience, and for that reason, I feel the richer as a result of it. Of course, as with any form of communication, if I go into it half-cocked, or indifferently, my mind elsewhere, or feeling any other insincerity, I shall fall on my face and then spend my energy picking myself up. The result, at its best, will be a skilful bit of side-stepping, perhaps even a changing of the subject. If you find yourself in this position then hang in there, and with an apology, attempt to make contact. You will find it a lesson in humility, respect and patience. The very essence of in-depth communication.
With studio painting, that is, not working from the actual subject, it is not playing the music as I read it, but it is drawing on all my experiences. The reason for the painting may be motivated by all manner of things. I may use working sketches, studio thinking, colour notes, as a preparation, although I rarely do. I cannot use photographs because I can’t get personally involved with them. I draw heavily from the language of the senses. It is so much more than just a visual thing. I usually work in series, one work leading to another. I may have several pieces on the go. Works that may fall short of the mark, may be important because, through them, I have found the direction for another. At times the going may be very much a struggle before I experience the release, the flow. With experience I have found technical problems become less because I have encountered most before.
I do my best to keep the company of sincerity and integrity. Rare company indeed. I hope this is reflected in my life and in my work. With the best of my intent I often fail. I am fortunate to have the understanding and encouragement of my wife and a handful of close friends. I hope I have made it clear. I see art and life as being one and the same.
The artistry of life.
Written by Robert Juniper for the catalogue -
David Gregson Retrospective 1955 -1984.
Held in October 1985 at the Undercroft Gallery – The University of Western Australia.
I first saw David Gregson’s work 30 years ago. He had decorated the walls of a Perth nightclub. The murals were enlarged copies of the work of Toulouse-Lautrec. One could immediately see that here was talent. I was impressed by the sure draughtsmanship and technique of one so young. I remember thinking at the time that Henri T.L. might have been impressed too.
David went overseas about that time to further his studies, returning to Perth as a teacher, and has had considerable impact on many students over the years. He has in his own way influenced the art scene through his own work – teaching – and in the early days creating a demand for art history in training programmes.
He pursued his own work more like a recluse. One sees relatively little of his output. He is a self-confessed solitary painter, shunning the gallery scene to some extent.
David is a stayer – slowly maturing and honing his own imagery and technique – eschewing the merely decorative and facile. He is fiercely critical of his own work and one suspects of others who show any of the weaknesses that he tries to avoid. Although I have never heard him be negatively critical about anyone else’s work, the self-discipline and strict criteria he imposes on his own work are used for others and unspoken, his expression at times carries a firm or severe rebuke for those of his colleagues who transgress the rules of integrity, whether by accident, carelessness or design.
David is versatile – still-life, landscape and portraiture are all tackled with the same panache and free style that may seem deceptively easy, but those close to him know how hard won the successful ones are.
David goes from strength to strength – a long distance runner. His recent work, I feel, is his best yet. It is authoritative and embodies the painterly qualities that one associated with the work of Ivor Hitchens, Rothco and de Kooning, and the decorative intelligence of Matisse. It has been interesting to watch his development from a talented youth to an assured painter of stature, with plenty up his sleeve.
Written by Richard Woldendorp in the catalogue -
David Gregson Retrospective 1955 -1984.
Held in October 1985 at the Undercroft Gallery – The University of Western Australia.
I’ve known David for about 20 years now and over that time I’ve grown to appreciate both the man and his work.
There are few painters as dedicated as David. He asks the ultimate from himself and won’t give up until he gets it. Whether he is painting a violin, a bush scene or a fish, he feels his way through every angle, mood and texture – even at times condensing them to a single brushstroke – giving himself the freedom to explore every complexity of the subject as well as his attitude towards it.
He even goes as far as making his own frames to compliment his paintings (as in Winter Stream, Darlington) and he is also a fine draughtsman, whether in pencil or charcoal – and his character studies, however imaginative, are always believable.
In future years, I will enjoy seeing the work of someone who is not only a personal friend but a painter who never stops developing and growing.
Excerpt written by Kathleen O’Connor
from an unpublished article Artiste Peintre
Kathleen O’Connor Archive, City of Fremantle collection,
23 October 1956 by Kathleen O’Connor.
The painting of young David Gregson shows a really honest search after what he feels about his subjects. To me it gives hope to a new Australian generation of painters as he is in every sense absolutely sincere.