Five Decades at Watters Gallery – Nurturing Art and Artists

Ron Lambert, Arctic Hopscotch, 1990, oil on canvas, courtesy Estate of the artist

Ron Lambert, Arctic Hopscotch, 1990, oil on canvas, courtesy Estate of the artist, on show in Five Decades at Watters Gallery, at the National Trust, S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney

An exhibition at the National Trust S.H. Ervin Gallery, on Observatory Hill, Sydney is now showing until 2nd November, 2014.

It celebrates the fifty year anniversary of the Watters Gallery, documenting the developments in visual arts in Australia over the last five decades.

Watters Gallery opened in Darlinghurst, Sydney in 1964, the concept of the Directors Frank Watters, Geoffrey Legge and Alexandra Legge.

It is a testament to the prudence, vision and integrity of the Directors.

It honours their unique perception of aesthetics that led them so naturally to a commitment and loyalty to a stable of aspiring talented artists.

The Directors were motivated by a passion for art that transcended fashionable trends and financial gain.

They have maintained a consistency of purpose and intent which has underpinned their continued and uncommon success in the art world.

Their relationships with artists and clients are based on respect, mutual admiration and a rare gentleness. These qualities pervaded their interactions and sustained long term connections and affinities.

Longevity is difficult in the art world and Watters Gallery has stood the test of time, trends and personal tragedy.

My husband introduced me to the Gallery over twenty years ago. He had been a patron since the very beginning.

Since then we have both spent many pleasant Saturday afternoons discussing shows and remarking on the wonders and joys of art. We were both committed to the Gallery’s original pioneering exhibitions of conceptual and minimal art.

National Trust S H Ervin Gallery, Sydney – On Show

It has been the venue for artworks that have explored social, political and environmental issues.

So it was nostalgic for my husband and I when we recently visited this exhibition.

On entering the space at the National Trust S.H. Ervin Gallery, my eye was instantly attracted to Ann Thomson’s painting Optimist [1964].

Figures huddled in an intimate group black vertical lines outlined silhouettes to create movement and pathways led to an all seeing giver of wisdom.

The muted colours produced depth and suggested choice.

On the opposite wall hung Sydney Balls Canto No. xxx [1966] where a large circle was divided by vertical bands of colour in varying widths.

Optimist Ann Thomson

Ann Thomson, Optimist, 1964, Oil on Board, Collection of the Artist, courtesy S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney

They are rendered in tones that illuminate the golden light of the dominant central yellow column.

The painting was boarded at the top and bottom by a vibrant cobalt blue and the circle sat on a background of dark black-blue. This painting was a study in the power of light and the magic of geometric shapes.

Ron Lambert, Contraband, 1960s, oil on board, Estate of the artist

Ron Lambert, Contraband, 1960s, oil on board, Estate of the artist, courtesy S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney

Ron Lambert’s Contraband [1960s] was rich in texture and the painterly layers of thick oil paints formed an intense image to me of the jazz age.

Experimentation, discovery, excitement, change were all concepts impressively woven into each intuitive brush stroke.

Illicit references and musical shapes were manipulated on the board to construct a painting that engaged the viewer and invited reflection.

“The first exhibition at Watters Gallery was held by the then doyenne of the Sydney art scene. Margo Lewers, whose exhibition opened at the original Watters Gallery site, which was a small terrace in Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst”.

Margo Lewers was an exceptionally talented and distinguished artist. Her Untitled work from 1964, an elliptical vision of the industrial age was echoed in the wheel like shapes shadowed by layers of fine paint, suggesting wear and tear, the passing of time and the motion of cyclic movement.

Philosophical explorations were communicated in the circular patterns that feature both randomly and decisively patterned. Investigation of the tenuous links between modern man and nature is suggested to me by the elephant like line shape that my eyes were drawn to. The autumn tones of the central focus point of the painting were enigmatic in essence.


John Peart, Golden, 1973-74, acrylic on canvas, Collection: Art Gallery of New South Wales – Gift of Patrick White 1986

I loved the vibrancy of John Peart’s painting Golden [1973-74].

The splats of orange and mauve/blues across the work gave the work movement and rendered it exciting and absorbing.

The geometric like rainbow background was warm and deftly executed. This was a fine example of abstract expressionism that was free and playful.

Paul Selwood’s sculpture Mountain journey [1980] was a geometric landscape that flowed with such fluidity and gathered the viewer on the journey.

The long winding and curving welded steel sculpture created the illusion of height.

The journey began below the base line of the sculpture to a series of structured steps presenting challenges to mount.

Seated figure, feet in harbour explores the profound relationship of man to the environment.

There were two featured artworks from Euan MacLeod, Early mirror [1981] and Seated figure, feet in harbour [2005].

Early mirror is a sleek reflection of youth that mirrors the confidence and options that abound in youth.

The slant of the figures was suggestive of nonchalant poise and the blocks of colour superimposed was a salient feature of his work. I appreciated the opportunity to view this striking and absorbing artwork.

Seated figure, feet in harbour explored the profound relationship of man to the environment. The lone figure in the majestic remote seascape ponders despair and isolation.

This is a very contemplative painting characterized by the thick rich wide movements of the paint. The figure is struggling with environmental and belonging issues.

The courage of reflection discovery and forgiveness was conceived in the touch of water on the feet of the seated figure. This was a monumental artwork that incited challenge and lingered in the imagination.

I have long been a fan of Jon Plapp who was a master of optical illusion and Singular [2001] is a fine example of his expertise. The use of black and white acrylic paint on canvas in a minimalist approach tricks the eye and creates the illusion.

Jasper Legge Untitled

Untitled, Jasper Legge, 2010, acrylic on paper, courtesy Estate of the artist

Jasper Legge’s Untitled is a legacy to his calling and dedication as an artist. It was a very solid example of a coming of age and a deep understanding of the philosophical principles that so confidently underpinned this memorable work.

The painterly markings caressed the canvas with his vision.

There are many other well known artists represented in this fine exhibition and I urge readers to take the opportunity to view, discover and cherish Five Decades at Watters Gallery.

However the real stars of the show are Frank Watters, Geoffrey Legge and Alexandra Legge for their contribution to the life of the Sydney, and indeed the whole of the Australian art world for over fifty years.

Rose Niland, Special Features NSW, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014

National Trust S.H. Ervin Gallery

Five Decades at the Watters Gallery

The Watters Gallery opened in Darlinghurst in 1964, and since then has become one of the leading private galleries on the Sydney arts scene. Led by Frank Watters, Geoffrey Legge & Alexandra  Legge, Watters Gallery has represented significant artists of every era and this exhibition will feature artists including Tony Tuckson, Robert Klippel, James Gleeson, Richard Larter, Ken Whisson and Euan Macleod in an exhibition which also traces the developments in the visual arts in Sydney over the past five decades.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.