Reviews | The Art of Neville Weston

Craft Arts International - Issue 62

The Artist's Chronicle, May 2003

It takes some fortitude for an art critic to exhibit artwork open to public scrutiny in the same city where his thoughts and views of other artists have been widely read and disseminated. Neville Weston is an artist first and foremost. His work as an art critic both here and in South Australia is the result of decades of analysis and inquiry in the visual arts. For the first time since 1984, his works will be seen in Western Australia in a solo exhibition at Gadfly Gallery, Dalkeith opening on 6 June.

Neville Weston was born in Birmingham in 1936, and studied at the prestigious Slade School of Art in London, as well as Stourbridge College of Art and the Birmingham College of Art. His teachers included Sir William Coldstream, Claude Rogers, Victor Passmore and Lucian Freud, grandson of famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, and considered by many as the greatest living portrait artist of our time. Through these teachers, who had in turn been taught or influenced by Steer, Tonks and Sickert, Weston gained a lasting admiration for the English realist tradition. His work relies heavily on plein air painting together with ‘the dignity of realism.’

In an article for Craft Arts International concerning the long-awaited retrospective of Lucian Freud’s work at Tate Britain in 2002, Weston related his encounter with a nervous young man the Slade School of Art to whom he would often chat in the corridors and by radiators. Although older, Weston assumed he was a student. “It took a year before I learned that he was Lucian Freud and a visiting tutor at the School. His engagement and disengagement with his surroundings was already well-defined.”

Weston’s style and subject-matter took assorted detours in his early career. In the 1960s he was a key figure in the English Pop Art movement, exhibiting alongside Hockney and Blake in the well-known Young Contemporaries exhibitions. “I recall that Hockney’s work was about 25 pounds, and mine about ten,” said Neville. “I was going to show Pop work internationally, but somehow it fell through.”

At this time the images he produced included a young couple cruising in the countryside in a Triumph TR4, and an American grid-iron player leaning on a Porsche. After a period of politically influenced work, he returned to realist style landscapes.

A regular exhibitor in England, Weston landed in
Australia with a splash, making his work widely known by winning the 1975 Perth International Drawing Prize. His first show of the same year was held at the Australian National University, Canberra. In 1986 he was winner of the Sir Hans Heyson Memorial Prize. More recently, he was a finalist in the prestigious Fleurieu Prize, held in South Australia in 2001. He worked for some years as an art critic for the Adelaide Advertiser, and lectured at the South Australian School of Art.

In 1986 he resigned from the Advertiser and shifted to an administration position instead of his teaching position, with a plan to take six months’ unpaid leave to concentrate on painting. Similarly, his current position as Adjunct Professor, Research Institute for Cultural Heritage at Curtin University, Perth, and Associate Professor at the College of Music, Visual Arts and Theatre at James Cook University, Townsville, allows a job sharing position which will leave six months of the year free to pursue painting.

His upcoming exhibition at Gadfly Gallery is titled “And Did Those Feet In Ancient Times,” a quote from William Blake’s Jerusalem. “I am using it to refer to the presence of the past in the present day and especially to the classicising tendency for so much art to be based on the art of the Classical past with its dreams of Arcadia and a Golden Age, which Blake also sought,” said Neville.

When asked how long the show took to complete, he cautiously replied, “I am always edgy about saying how long a show took. As an art critic I have often seen such comments, and thought, hmmm, another week might have made the difference!”

In Rome last June for an international Heads of Art Schools meeting, Neville utilised the free afternoons for drawing. “I found myself being the on-the-spot kind of street painter which I had been thirty years earlier.” Apart from a four-week lecturing stint in Canada and the United States, he worked solidly on the majority of works for the show until December last year.

Everywhere he visited seemed to carry a reminder that the influence of the classical is inescapable. “On that street of broken dreams, Sunset Boulevard, where grand Rolls Royces purred behind their Greek temple- shaped radiators, I found hairdressers and dress shops thinly disguised as Greco-Roman temples. In England, under the frozen soil of early winter frosts, I realised that there were the lost but not forgotten remains of a great imperial occupation: villas, temples, civic buildings. In old market towns I could see Roman ruins had been recycled over two thousand years of continual usage. Then finally, when I spent time in Rome, there was no escaping the evidence of a continuous art and architectural presence.”

The debris of past cultures is noted in previous works. Intrigued by the role gardens played in colonisation of 19th century Australia, he produced a series of paintings about well-known gardens, leading to a forty-one metre commission for a hotel in Adelaide in 1991. The work depicted a walk through North Terrace Botanic Gardens in five long panels.

As for his views on writing about art as opposed to producing art, Neville said ‘my view of teaching painting is that all I hope to do is make people see, or rather to really look at the world and at their own work. I’d say the same about writing reviews. I want to give context, make viewers and the artist see where their work fits, what it achieves and what it is about.”

Neville might appear in the future as a guest writer for The West Australian. In the meantime, take the opportunity to view his uplifting works in this rare exhibition in Perth.

Lyn DiCiero

© 2014 Neville Weston