James GLEESON, Conference at the caldera Enlarge 1 /1


Hornsby, New South Wales, Australia 1915 – Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 2008

  • England, Europe 1947-49
  • Europe, United States of America 1958-59

Conference at the caldera 1984 Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas

Dimensions: 152.5 h x 204.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1985
Accession No: NGA 85.505

Surrealism had always made use of the irrational as a method of evaluating the nature of reality. The unexpected combination of unrelated things shakes up our habitual ways of thinking about visual experiences.

Why hold a meeting at the edge of a volcanic caldera? Why have the delegates arrived in such biomorphic disguises? Why paint as accurately as possible the things one cannot see except with the eye of the imagination?

There are no logical answers to these sorts of questions. The purpose of the painting is to suggest to the viewer the idea of an alternative reality – of something hovering on the edge of identity yet still unnameable – a constituency freed from the cage of fact, a thought sprung from the compost of forgotten memories, fed from darkness yet held in stasis as something that had not been before.

Reality has not been completely overthrown but has been subverted by inner experiences into a landscape that has no exact parallel in nature. The normal elements are reshaped as living tissues with an independent life of their own – landscape as a vital organism intent upon its own secret purposes.

The Surrealist proposes that there is no such thing as a universally held reality. Individual experiences constantly shift the point of view as life itself unfolds its patterns on us.

James Gleeson 2002

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