Vale: Alun Leach-Jones

Gina Fairley

Once you start to realise you can become a painter, the only way you can become really major, is to just keep working, working, working - and he did.
Vale: Alun Leach-Jones

Alun Leach-Jones in his studio; Photography Michel Brouet, image supplied courtesy Nicholas Thompson Gallery, Melbourne

Born in 1937 in Lancashire, UK, Alun Leach-Jones has spent the past half-century passionately devoted to his own language of abstraction, recognised as one of Australia’s leading painters and printmakers in the genre.  He presented more than 82 solo exhibitions since 1964 when he first started showing, with his work really coming to prominence with its inclusion in the National Gallery of Victoria’s iconic inaugural exhibition The Field (1968).

ADVERTISEMENT

Leach-Jones sadly passed away on Christmas Eve (24 December 2017). His two paintings from that iconic exhibition – now held in private collections – will be loaned back for The Field Revisited exhibition later this year. Leach-Jones was preparing for an exhibition of new work to be held at Nicholas Thompson Gallery to coincide with the NGV show. As per the wishes of the artist’s family, the exhibition will be proceed, opening at Alun's Melbourne gallery, 2 to 20 May.

Leach-Jones was what we like to describe as “an artist’s artist”, a genuine mentor and teacher for many and passionate for making, moving elegantly across mediums from painting to drawing, sculpture, linocuts, screenprints and etchings.

He started his path as an artist young. At just 14 he began a three-year apprenticeship to the Solicitors Law Stationery Society Limited in Liverpool, where he was employed as a painter of illuminated manuscripts.

He studied art at the Liverpool College of Art from 1955 to 1957 before emigrating to Australia in 1960, where he studied printmaking at the South Australian School of Art under Udo Sellbach.

Leach-Jones was heavily influenced by Matisse and Cezanne. He started producing screenprints and was recognized as part of what was then called "the New Abstraction" in Australian art.

He believed that colour drove the emotion and structure of his work. He told Art Guide Australia in an interview earlier last year: ‘I never use colour straight from a tube or a jar; everything has to be mixed. And it’s in the mixing that gives you a signature. It’s the pitch of the tone, or the brightness of the colour, the sharpness of the edge against a softer tone.’

This flawless and immaculate quality of his paintings and surfaces was important to Leach-Jones, something he pursued right through his long career.

‘Once you start to realise you can become a painter, or a singer, or a dancer, you get a sense of, or taste of it, the only way you can become really major, is to just keep working, working, working. You cannot afford to let your guard down,’ he told writer Tracey Clement.

Alun Leach-Jones Work and Days 7 (2017), Acrylic on canvas; shown by Nicholas Thompson Gallery at Sydney Contemporary last year in a solo presentation. Image supplied; photo Michel Brouet

His reputation as a printmaker was equally formidable. Working with master printmakers Larry Rawling, Diana Davidson and Michelle Perry, among others, the medium was perfect for dealing with flat fields of colour and sharp definition.

It is said that Leach-Jones completed well in excess of 150 editions of prints over his career, with some screen prints working with up to 70 different colours.

Lesser known were his domestic scaled assemblages and small bronze sculptures, which he made since 1988, encouraged by friend and fellow artist Robert Klippel. Apparently he would cut out precise shapes from timber that would then be positioned together with a similar fastidiousness to creating a complex print or painting.

Leach-Jones was also known for his love of ethnic objects, music and poetry. It has been commented that he holds ‘one of the best private collections of books of poetry in Australia’.

He was the subject of an extensive biography in 1988, published by Craftsman House, with an expanded edition republished in 1995. Essays include poet Robert Gray, Graeme Sturgeon (who had been the initial Director of Artbank) and Christopher Gentle (the inaugural Director of Sydney’s Ivan Dougherty Gallery).

Survey exhibitions of Leach-Jones’ work have been presented at Lalit Kala Academy, New Delhi, India (1974), Monash University Gallery, Melbourne (1976), Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, Germany (1981) Glyn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea, Wales (1992), Geelong Art Gallery, Victoria (1995) and Newcastle Region Art Gallery, New South Wales (2007).

Alun Leach-Jones is represented by Nicholas Thompson Gallery, Melbourne, which is working closely with the family on Leach-Jones' esate.

In the past he showed regularly with many galleries, including Australian Galleries, Melbourne, Watters Gallery, Sydney, Ray Hughes Gallery, Brisbane; Rudy Komon Gallery, Sydney; Solander Gallery, Canberra; Luise Ross Gallery, New York, USA, and most recently, Rex Irwin Art Dealer, Sydney, BMGART in Adelaide, and by the Bruce Heiser Gallery in Brisbane.

His work is held within major museum collections including Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, both in New York; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of South Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, The British Museum, London, The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, National Gallery of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, Auckland City Art Gallery, New Zealand, among others.

Tributes have flooded social media with news of Alun Leach-Jones’ passing. He leaves a great legacy for Australia. He is survived by his wife Nola.

About the author

Gina Fairley covers the Visual Arts nationally for ArtsHub. Based in Sydney you can follow her on Twitter @ginafairley and Instagram at fairleygina.