Narrative courses through Garry Shead’s work. Sometimes real, sometimes made-up and often a bit of both, his work tests the distinctions between truth and fiction and identity and fantasy. In this series of graphics, we witness the Archibald and Dobell prize winner traverse the depths of Dante’s ‘Inferno’ to the planes of Australia’s psyche and into Greek mythology. What do these realms have in common? Powerful myths.
Once Upon a Time…
There was a lion with skin impervious to a sword’s strike, a white bull too beautiful to slay and a goddess of fertility called Artemis. There was also Athena goddess of wisdom, Taurus and the Naiad, a seabound creature that is associated with both healing and threat. These figures populate Shead’s work, pricking at a rich history of storytelling.
Ancient Greek myths served a purpose beyond entertainment. They were allegorical, seeking to make sense of existence and teach audiences how best to live. In her role, Artemis embodied the ideal of sportsmanship, meaning that besides killing creatures she also protected them, particularly the young. This duality is present in Shead’s portrait where she appears as nature’s equilibrium, flanked by a peacock and cat.
Back in Australia
Shead’s interest in mythology extended the Greeks to curiously, wind up in D H Lawrence’s 1923 Kangaroo. A book about fringe Sydney politics and Australian culture, ‘Kangaroo’ stemmed from Lawrence’s sojourn in Thirroul, New South Wales. Despite being written seventy years before his time, Shead resonated deeply with both text and author, exploring both in his work.
These images, which include ‘The Gathering’, ‘The Presence’ and ‘The League’ take, break and rebuild elements of Lawrence, Kangaroo and Shead’s own life. They frustrate the boundaries between reality and fiction, coalescing artist with author and author with his characters.
This contracting of reality bleeds into Shead’s kangaroos. When reflecting on his depictions of ‘roos, Shead noted that they were once considered a “kitsch” subject in Australian art. To him however, they hold a personal significance - as a child, Shead shot and killed one with his father. “I was shattered”, he says. Thus, as a kind of repentance Shead resurrects the ‘roo in his work as a noble even divine creature. In a work about another man’s book, traces of the artist remain.
And They Lived Happily Ever After
The delightful lyricism of Shead’s imagery always conceals something deeper. Like the thrilling twists and turns of a Greek myth, he seduces with beauty and wit before enlivening the mind. His work is as much about its subject matter, as it is about the act of imagination. This Shead believed, was vital to life. As he once quoted Dostoevsky;
"The world will be saved by beauty"
Discover our full Garry Shead collection here.