This exhibition celebrates a major new donation to Newcastle Art Gallery of 40 paintings by Australian artist Robert Dickerson with works of art dating 1995-2011. They include signature figurative works of art and a number of paintings that directly relate to Newcastle that will be displayed with 53 works of art by Dickerson from the collection.
Born and raised in Sydney Robert Dickerson never had formal art training but proceeded to become one of Australia’s most renowned and recognisable artists with his figurative paintings. He was part of the seminal ‘Antipodeans’ art group active in the 1950s and 60s in Melbourne comprised of friend and colleagues Charles Blackman, Arthur Boyd, David Boyd, John Brack, Clifton Pugh and critic Bernard Smith championing figurative painting as a counter to the rise of geometric abstraction.
Dickerson left school at the age of 14 working in factories and then becoming a boxer, often travelling to Newcastle for tournaments with the famous Jimmy Sharman Boxing Troupe. It was however a profession he later described as ‘the cruellest in the world’. He joined the RAAF and served in South East Asia in the later stages of WWII. These experiences had influence on the ongoing themes in his later paintings of solitary figures isolated and disconnected from the world. It was in Morotai that he started drawing figures of the local children and an interest in painting developed. In 1950 he formally started painting and in 1956 sold his first work to the National Gallery of Victoria. Dickerson said 'Some of my best early paintings were done in a caravan shed, and finished in the small hours of the morning before I left for work.'
The earliest painting by the artist in the Newcastle Art Gallery collection, an other-worldy portrait of son Guy was painted by Dickerson at their home in Moorebank (Lot 1 Epson Rd) in 1957. The painting was purchased from the Robert Dickerson exhibition at the prestigious Farmer’s Department Store Blaxland Gallery Sydney in May 1959. Of the painting he wrote: '(The) Portrait of my eldest son Guy in enamels on hardboard (Masonite). This relates to a particular period of the artist’s life when he was painting children and is a story of Guy as the artist envisaged he might look when he was older.'
Off the Canvas celebrates the legacy of one of Australia's most celebrated artists and this significant gift of 40 new works of art through the generosity of the Dickerson family to the city of Newcastle.
McCullochs et al, The Encyclopedia of Australian Art,
The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne 1996, p213
Robert Dickerson, Survey exhibition catalogue,
Caulfield Arts Complex, April/May 1993
Robert Dickerson letter, Newcastle Art Gallery artist file, located and sourced 20-9-2017
ROBERT DICKERSON: Off the Canvas - Catalogue
Banner image: Robert DICKERSONYoung girl Merewether 2003 acrylic on canvas 92.0 x 122.0cm Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program 2018 Newcastle Art Gallery collection Courtesy the artist's estate