Egypt 1921 – Australia 1973
White with lines (charcoal) black border
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, synthetic polymer paint on composition board Support: smooth composition board affixed to wooden support
Manufacturer's Mark: no manufacturer's mark
White is an elemental colour in the work of Tony Tuckson. It is the colour of the elegant, whimsical line that journeys its way down a sheet of Masonite to create Tuckson’s grand yet subtle masterpiece White sketchc 1973, a bequest from Lucy Swanton to the Gallery in 1982. It shapes his figures and interiors in the early Matisse-like paintings of the 1950s and is the crux of White over red on bluec 1971, which remains one of the great pronouncements of Abstract Expressionism in Australian art. White with lines (charcoal) black border 1970–73 stands among this rarefied company of Tuckson’s greatest ‘white’ paintings and was donated this year by the artist’s widow, Margaret Tuckson AM, before she passed away in August.
There is no escaping the powerful symbolism of white and its dichotomous relationship with the equally loaded black. White is the colour of purity, light, space, energy and radiance. It is also funereal, with deep religious significance in many cultures as a symbol of the triumph of the spirit over death. As such, there is something eternal and enduring about Tuckson’s late abstractions. After working through figuration and primitivism in the 1950s, he arrived at a spare and elegant realm of distilled resolution, and a purity in his art was attained.
White with lines (charcoal) black border traces a remarkable trajectory from prehistoric art, when man simply painted on stone with calcite and chalk, effortlessly arching its way to twentieth-century Abstract Expressionism. The broad gestural brush strokes of paint and the shock of the black incised lines evoke the very act of painting itself. The years of observing and internalising indigenous art practices during his numerous visits to Arnhem Land and Papua New Guinea left their mark on Tuckson’s painting, and in White with lines (charcoal) black border something of Tuckson’s energy and presence is palpable, seemingly preserved in the work itself.
Tuckson was largely unrecognised during his lifetime. His duties at the Art Gallery of New South Wales often took precedence over his impetus to paint, so only about 400 paintings exist. The Gallery has sought to build the pre-eminent collection of this great artist’s work for the nation, and Margaret Tuckson’s gift of this remarkable work furthers this important endeavour.
Lara Nicholls, Curator of Australian Painting and Sculpture
in artonview, issue 80, Summer 2014