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Surrealist Art


James Gleeson 


James Gleeson 

James Gleeson (born 21 November 1915) is Australia's foremost surrealist artist. He is also a poet, critic, writer and curator. He has played a significant role in the Australian art scene, including serving on the board of the National Gallery of Australia.

Gleeson was born in Sydney where he attended East Sydney Technical College. It was here he was drawn to work of the likes of Salvador Dalí, Giorgio de Chirico and Max Ernst. In 1938 he studied at Sydney Teacher's College where he gained two years training in general primary school teaching. He also joined the Sydney Branch of the assertively experimental Contemporary Art Society. At this time Gleeson became interested in the writings of psychologists such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. These would become major intellectual influences for his art.

Gleeson's themes generally delved into the subconscious using literary, mythological or religious subject matter. He was particularly interested in Jung’s archetypes of the collective unconscious.

During the 50s and 60s he moved to a more symbolic perspective, exploring notions of human perfectibility. At this time he increasingly fashioned small psychedelic compositions made using the surrealist technique of decalcomania in the background, to suggest a landscape, and finished by adding a fastidiously painted male nude in the foreground. The ideas for these compositions also saw Gleeson move into collage with his Locus Solus series, where he produced a substantial body of work by placing dismembered photographs, magazine illustrations, diagrams and lines of visionary poetry against abstract pools of ink.

Since the 1970s Gleeson has generally made large scale paintings in keeping with the surrealist Inscape genre. The works outwardly resemble rocky seascapes, although in detail the coastline's geological features are found to be made of giant molluscs and threatening crustacae. In keeping with the Freudian principles of surrealism these grotesque, nightmarish compositions symbolise the inner workings of the human mind. Called 'Psychoscapes' by the artist, they show liquid, solid and air coming together and directly allude to the interface between the conscious, subconscious and unconscious mind.

Gleeson's later works incorporate the human form less and less in it's entirety. The human form was then represented in his landscapes by suggestions, an arm, a hand or merely an eye.


We Inhabit the Corrosive Littoral of Habit


The Souver


The Five Wounds


The Citadel


Principles of the Ritual of Homicide


The attitude of lightning towards a lady mountain


Massive Journey of a Personally Nocturn 'd Object


Surreal Landscape with Figures


Figure in Psychoscape




Otus and Ephialtes


The Shepherd


Theseus 5: Theseus and Ariadne




Death of Hyacinthus


The Mirror


The Activist


Figure in Psychoscape


Figures in psychoscape I


Figure in a Psychoscape


2 Wrestling Figures


Serious Cove




L'Apres Midi de Saturn


Landscape with Anthropomorphic Ambitions


Approaching a Diguised Iceberg


Invented Memories of Tomorrow


At the Shore of Certainty


The Fall of Day


Wind Grids


After the Rain


Irregular Behaviour of a Setting Sun




Aubade for a Summer Solstice


Evening Ceremonies


Sketch for Totems in Arcadia


Study for 'The Sacrifice'


Study for 'Landscape with Anthropomorphic Ambitions'


Study for 'The Armourer'


Study for 'Night Emblems'


Study for 'The Island'


Study for 'The Keeper of Used Shadows'


Study for 'Thermapylae Transformed'


Study for 'An Unauthorised Storm at Portheadland'


Study for 'The Storm'

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