They are moving against a wind; they must keep moving, as the wind buffets them about, exposed. The waves break on the shore. Birds spread their wings and float in the air, supported by the wind. In South wind on the beach, John Passmore evoked the experience of a windy day on the beach. He did not just depict how things look, or their underlying structure; he conveyed the impressions of his mind, through a mixture of visual fact and the relationships between energetic slashes of paint and colour. He derived even his most abstract works from nature, but he never created purely descriptive or literal images, capturing instead a psychic reality.
From an early age, Passmore watched sailing ships straining against the wind on Sydney Harbour, and he continued to be inspired by the harbour and the beach throughout his life. He probably painted South wind on the beach towards the end of his stay in Newcastle in 1954–55, at the height of his powers and his success.
In the 1950s, young Sydney artists admired Passmore’s art for its painterly qualities and found him an inspired teacher, both at the Julian Ashton School and the National Art School. He advocated an approach to painting based on that of Cézanne and taught that what mattered most was to be a thinking artist. John Olsen, one of his most successful students, recalled that Passmore sought ‘to make us understand that art comes out of something more than the personal ego – you are not just expressing yourself, you are expressing something implied by the whole tradition. Passmore was concerned in his teaching and in his own work to emphasize the process of the picture one has in hand, rather than the end product.’1
1John Olsen, Drawn from Life, Sydney: Duffy and Snellgrove, 1997, p.7.
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