Tony Tuckson

The Abstract Sublime
Art Gallery of NSW
To February 17

Tony Tuckson at the AGNSW (photo Jan Courtin).

Tony Tuckson at the AGNSW (photo Jan Courtin).

Makeshift, Abstraction and the Australian Patina, Terri Brooks, excerpt PhD exegesis 2009.

'In Tuckson’s sketch book drawings[77] he reinvents the tradition of drawing with new perspectives and flattened fields. There is a merging of positive and negative space rendered in a spare lineal manner of simplification and reductionism. This influence undoubtedly stems from Tuckson’s visual observations of Indigenous art which carry the same values, but in Tuckson’s case the influence is synthesised rather than emulated.

Tuckson opted for makeshift, or do-it-yourself, materials. In his studio stood an old easel and ‘a sack curtain roughly stitched together by Tony’.[78] Tuckson, Fairweather and indeed Olsen at times painted on newspaper. Fairweather’s reasoning, ‘I ran out of other paper’, [79] while Tuckson, who painted ten thousand works on paper,[80] maybe just thought it expedient to ‘use what was at hand’. Similar reasoning of necessity was employed by earlier settlers in the use of newspaper as a substitute for wallpaper or the making of paper mâché baskets during the Great Depression. My grandparents used newspaper for insulation, wrapping rubbish, lining cupboard drawers and rolled up to catch insects in the vegetable garden.
Tony Tuckson at the AGNSW (photo Jan Courtin).
No 35: Drawing, 1962, at first glace is an interesting collage (Figure 26). It is also makeshift. Tuckson has grabbed whatever was at hand rather than search for the right or aesthetic piece of paper to use as you might find in more formal collage.[81] The cigarette packaging and newspaper strips are arranged unaesthetically, in a kind of ‘any old how’ slap dash manner and bear no real regard for the background. Visually, the continual repetition of the cigarette packaging creates an aesthetic of poverty (due to choice of materials) and simplicity. The very ordinariness of the collage materials combined with the almost unartful charcoal lines allows the full expression of emotion, the driver, to be absorbed.

Lyrical abstraction, with its heavy emphasis on expressive gesture requires the use and poise of the whole body; as such the surface of the canvas is the end product of a kind of painting performance.[82] Tuckson’s lyrical works from 1970–73, the works that set him apart, are direct, hard hitting paintings imbued or bound by the artist’s sensibilities. They traverse neither decorative nor narrative territory, which allows the work to stay true to its emotional impetus. It is ‘one hit’ painting, ‘a home slog’, and as such it is hard to beat. The beauty of this type of painting is that it hits you again and again in the same fresh way every time you see it. Like Fairweather, Tuckson’s work is convincing. Makeshift values are apparent in the painterly decisions he made, his brush work and the materials he favoured. Builders or ‘bush’ handyman materials were used. Cheap masonite sheeting (left in its raw and flexible state) was preferred to canvas. House paints and house painter’s brush and charcoal were used in equal preference to fine artist’s materials. His loaded brush was delivered at full force in an open and direct way without cosmetic fuss about how the paint landed on the canvas. Technique was superfluous to ‘getting the job done’ as dribbles, drips and splashes were incorporated into the composition. This created patina of Tuckson’s surface is akin to the rough appearance of Lanceley’s Self Portrait, or Gasgoine’s weathered found materials. His last works capitalise the open field of the picture plain, at once recalling the wide open space of the Australian landscape without rendering it, for Tuckson ‘everything was space’[83]. Tuckson often described his brush work as up, down and across.[84] You could not get a more simple, ‘down to earth’, honest or unartful arm movement or interpretation of the rectangular painting surface. To emulate Tuckson is to take a journey into a visual toughness that allows no fuss. His paintings are as cultural Australian ‘makeshift’ as Pollock’s paintings are verisimilitudes of the American Wild West. Tuckson’s sophistication lies in his lack of contrived finesse. It was a choice to use hard-hitting non-decorative marks aimed at purely expressive spiritual outcomes. This is different to the Americans as it is more direct, open and economical, as if drawing at full speed or intensity—one line could express everything.'

Tony Tuckson at the AGNSW (photo Jan Courtin).

     77.  Tuckson’s sketchbooks were displayed in an exhibition at the Heide Museum of Modern Art.
     78.  Daniel Thomas et al., Tony Tuckson, 2nd ed. (Fishermans Bend, Vic.: Craftsman House, 2006), 19.
     79.  Ian Fairweather to T. Smith, (November 11, 1959) Bribie Island in Ian Fairweather, Bail, 160.
     80.  Daniel Thomas et al., Tony Tuckson, 9.
     81.  Ibor Holubizky, ‘Madonna Staunton: sorting through…organising things, in time…through time’, in Madonna Staunton, ed. Michael Snelling, 22, ‘the materials are very much related in the act of collage’.
    82.  Robert S. Nelson and Richard Shiff, Critical Terms, for Art History, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 85. ‘French painter Georges Mathieu, following Harold Rosenberg’s interpretation of Jackson Pollock’s painting process, began to perform his action paintings before audiences in Europe, Japan, South America, and the United States’ in the 1950s. Author’s note: Kngwarray’s works have also been linked to a performance or the residue of.
     83.  Daniel Thomas et al., Tony Tuckson, 19.
     84.  Ibid.