Dick WATKINS, The key Enlarge 1 /1


Australia born 1937

  • Great Britain, Europe, United States of America 1959-61
  • Australia 1961-74
  • Hong Kong 1974-79 with periods in Europe 1974-75 and 1977-78

The key 1991 Materials & Technique: paintings, synthetic polymer paint on canvas

Primary Insc: signed and dated reverse stretcher "RW/91"
Dimensions: 152.0 h x 244.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1992
Accession No: NGA 92.787

Dick Watkins was one of the forerunners of colour-field painting in Australia in the late 1960s, creating works with pure colour, using dynamic geometric shapes and limited spatial depth. He has worked in a range of styles – figurative, hard-edge and pop but, from 1969, most often in a spontaneous expressive manner. He paints directly from his inner feelings, without any preparatory sketches, rapidly and exuberantly brushing colour onto the canvas, creating works with immense energy and vitality.

The key is a striking example of Watkins’s expressive power. The brightly coloured sharp-edged forms are arranged in witty spatial patterns that can be read in a variety of ways.

Dick Watkins comments:

With not much premeditation, I move in with a few big brushes and splash a bit of paint around – not in a linear way – in a broad way. I get a few shapes up and then it is a matter of slowly elaborating on that with mass and line, sort of interchanging all the time until I arrive at a satisfactory complexity. Every painter knows when the picture is finished. It just gels ... The way I start a picture is purely intuitive. Each time I have a certain optimism that this will be the ideal painting, the masterpiece, and that is what I believe painting should be trying to do. It should attempt to make something beautiful and powerful at the same time. I think what Pollock did is ideal. That’s how an Abstract picture should be painted ... There are all sorts of references, but with Abstract art one uses certain devices to fill up space. I might start by putting a circle or a cross or some other mark. After a while these inevitably become repetitive and have to be discarded. There is not a great deal to work with. Only straight lines and curved ones after all. So I have to keep working at it all the time. To a degree, a painting is about design. It has to assume a certain complexity.1

Dick Watkins (1983) and Anne Gray

1Dick Watkins, interview with Grazia Gunn, 30 May 1981, quoted in Grazia Gunn, ‘Dick Watkins’, Art in Australia, vol.21, no.2, 1983, pp.210-16 (pp.210-11)

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002