Aotearoa New Zealand born 1934
Dunedin, Aotearoa New Zealand born 1938
Chatswood, New South Wales, Australia 1938 – Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1997
Annandale, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil, synthetic polymer paint, collage of found objects on plywood
Byzantium is a collaborative work that encapsulates the freewheeling, experimental spirit of the early 1960s. It was created by Mike Brown, Ross Crothall and Colin Lanceley, who were known at the time as the Annandale Imitation Realists. The name of the group came in part from the Sydney suburb of Annandale where the artists worked in a ramshackle Victorian house, while the idea of ‘Imitation Realists’ was deliberately playful, irreverent and nonsensical — debunking pretensions of ‘high art’.
Byzantium is certainly one of the most striking examples of the short-lived Annandale Imitation Realists’ collaborations. Every part of the surface is covered with dense, intricate patterning and imagery. The artists were particularly interested in the images and intense presence of Melanesian masks and shields, and the way New Guinean artists collaged the debris of an introduced culture, such as bottletops, nails and tin cans, into their works.
The central figure in the composition, with outstretched cardboard arms, incorporates paint-tin lids (Lanceley worked for Dulux at the time) and a wide range of found materials. There are inferences in some of the figures and heads from Dubuffet and outsider art, and also to popular culture. In the Australian context, the artist who was most significant to them at the time was John Olsen, who had recently returned from Europe. As Lanceley said of Olsen’s art: ‘Its appeal for me was that it seemed a very inventive approach to painting – it looked as though there could be an enormous vocabulary, a great fund of imagery to be discovered.’1
Although Sydney based, the Annandale Imitation Realists had their first exhibition in Melbourne. Of this show Geoffrey Dutton wrote: ‘The exhibition, in 1962, was at John Reed’s Museum of Modern Art. It was as much a happening as an exhibition, and scandalized and delighted Melbourne.’2
1Colin Lanceley in conversation with William Wright Colin Lanceley Sydney: Craftsman House 1987 p.8.
2Geoffrey Dutton The Innovators: The Sydney alternatives in the rise of modern art, literature and ideas Melbourne: Macmillan 1986 p.219.
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