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image icon 'Silver and grey', 1969

'Silver and grey', 1969
Art Gallery of South Australia

Description

This is an oil painting measuring 137.2 cm x 152.3 cm by Fred Williams (1927-82), dated 1969. The largely abstract landscape shows a number of variously shaped and sized patches and strokes of colour set against an all-over off-white background. In the upper half of the work are two long converging lines that extend almost the width of the work and are surrounded by small dotted patches and squiggly strokes of colour. In the lower half of the work the patches and strokes are larger, bolder and more varied in colour. Throughout the work, the patches and strokes are coloured in white, black, dark and light blue, greeny-grey, ochre and pink.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a painting by Fred Williams, who is regarded as one of Australia's finest 20th-century landscape artists - Williams studied art at Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria (1943-45) and George Bell Art Schools (1946-50) before travelling to London, where he studied at the Chelsea Art School (1951-56) and made first-hand studies of modern and 'old master' European paintings; his early landscape subjects included areas close to Melbourne such as the You Yangs, Lysterfield and Upwey; later subjects included the Murray River and the Pilbara region in Western Australia
  • illustrates Williams's ideas about the uniqueness of the Australian landscape - when Williams returned from the UK in December 1956 to an Australian summer, he was struck by what he described as 'the unstructured Australian countryside … a landscape with no centre of interest - that wasn't naturally composed'; the artist captures this quality in 'Silver and grey' by not defining the landscape with any horizon line (the commonest visual device used by artists to denote distance), by making no reference at all to a sky, and by allowing the marks on the canvas to merely hint at the features of a particular landscape
  • captures the physicality or feeling of an Australian landscape on a hot summer's day - the very light background tends to reduce the brush marks to dark blobs; squinting, without sunglasses, at distant objects such as trees and buildings across a shimmering paddock on a hot cloudless day has much the same effect
  • is an excellent example of the artist's method of working - in addition to painting and drawing, Williams made prints, particularly etchings; he liked the bold, grainy shapes and textures created by the etching process and it was his usual practice to make an etching of an image before translating it into a painting; the title of this work, 'Silver and grey' refers to the colours of an inked and wiped zinc etching plate; the etching process involves the use of acid to bite a design or an image into a polished, flat zinc plate; the plate is then inked and the surface of the plate wiped clean to leave colour only in the 'bitten' areas; a sheet of damp paper is then placed on top of the plate and both are fed through a printing press to allow the paper to pick up the recessed ink
  • demonstrates skillful handling of the oil paint medium to communicate ideas - the paintwork incorporates some wet-in-wet (applying paint to a still-wet area of paint) and dry brush (lightly dragging thick paint over dried and usually textured areas of paint) paint applications, which give the painting an informal 'sketchy' look; the use of this technique and the absence of recognisable details give this painting the appearance of an artist's palette, as if the painting is still at the image stage, rough and featureless, like much of Australia's vast inland
  • is about the idea of 'landscape' - the change in the size of the dots and other markings (larger at the bottom and smaller at the top) implies a sense of a foreground, middle distance and background; Williams did say that the long horizontal lines denoted a fence, but the unfinished, rough and minimal character of this image may lead the viewer to share with the artist an understanding of Australian landscapes as being half-physical and half-imagined places
  • is critically regarded as one of Williams's most significant works - 'Silver and grey' is one of four variations on the same subject that the artist had been working towards for some time; Williams painted the variations on four separate canvases all on one day (28 May 1969); while he continued to work on each canvas over several months, he recorded in his diary at the end of that working day, 'These are very valuable pictures for me'.