Alun Leach-Jones (1937-2017)

Written by: © Dr Eugene Barilo von Reisberg, 2018
When we were moving our offices to Albert Road, the directors and I had an engaging discussion about finding a prominent spot for a painting by Alun Leach-Jones at our new premises. Earlier this year, we attended to a much more solemn exercise: drawing up the estate inventory of the artist, who passed away on Christmas Eve, December 24.
The 1,500 or so works which remain in the artist’s studio trace Alun Leach-Jones’s artistic journey. It began with expressionistic landscapes, featuring broad washes and floating shapes that were perfectly suited to the depiction of his native Wales as well as the environs of Adelaide, where he arrived in early 1960s. The mid-1960s saw a radical change in the direction of Leach-Jones’s art. A decisive move away from the figurative towards strict formalism of colour and shape resulted in the iconic Noumenon paintings. The inclusion of works from this series in the ground-breaking exhibition The Field, at the newly-erected National Gallery of Victoria in 1968, had placed Leach-Jones firmly within Australia’s artistic Olympus. The inchoate swarm of anthropomorphic silhouettes which populated the elliptical worlds of the Noumenon paintings evolved into a visual vocabulary for an ongoing artistic exploration from the 1970s onwards. In spite of the seeming compositional complexity and saturated colour palette, each of Alun’s painting contains an inner rhythm and cadence; shapes and pigments are balanced judiciously within the contained microcosm.
The evolution of Leach-Jones’s pictorial language is amply reflected in his prints. In a similar vein, it begins from a disarmingly direct self-portrait of the young artist, produced by Alun when he could not have been older than 25-30, and which, to our knowledge, is one of the very few figurative images within the artist’s printed oeuvre. Otherwise, such series as Division, India, Capricornia, Alchemy, and many others demonstrate that the imaginative vocabulary, complex compositional structures, and opulent colour schemes of his abstract paintings were richly explored in a variety of print media with which the artist experimented boldly throughout his life. This included screen printing, lithography, etchings, linocuts, woodcuts, and digital media. However, the stark compositional simplicity and the near-monochromatic laconicism of such series as The Plain Sense of Things, The Philosophy of Objects and An Elegiac Suite also suggest that the printmaking process was an experimental antidote to the colourful and compositional complexity of his painted oeuvre.
Leach-Jones’s sculptures manifest the artist’s ability to translate his vision into a three-dimensional form. His works on paper, however, reveal a different side. Deeply respectful of the physical nature of media, such as the velvet fragility of charcoal and pastel in the works from the 1990s, and the fluidity and transparency of watercolours and ink washes within the recent Cold Mountain series, allowed the artist to retreat from the hard-edge sharpness of his painted oeuvre and revisit the lyrically abstracted forms of his earliest works.
2018 was shaping up as a momentous year in Leach-Jones’s career. The Field Revisited at the National Gallery of Victoria promised to unite the paintings shown in 1968, while a concurrent solo exhibition at Nicholas Thompson Gallery would have showcased the artist’s recent oeuvre, evident of Leach-Jones’s indomitable artistic spirit and vivid imagination. Sadly, the artist is no longer with us. The exhibitions will proceed as planned. His works will proudly represent in absentia the artist and his enduring legacy.
Alun Leach-Jones is survived by his wife, the sculptor Nola (Leach-)Jones (née Wilkins). His Instruments for a Solitary Navigator # IV (1991) is on display in our Melbourne office. One of his sculptures, Small Worlds and I # 5 (2010), can be viewed in our Sydney office.