James Gleeson was born in Sydney in 1915. Not only a painter but also a poet, critic, writer and curator, he played a significant role in Australian art, including serving on the board of the National Gallery of Australia.
For more than six decades, Gleeson's work explored the possibilities of surrealism. He aimed to show, beyond the obvious and everyday, an alternative reality experienced through dreams, hallucinations, and differing mental states.
The inspiration for many of his earlier works came from the poetry of TS Elliot, and the paintings of Salvador Dali, Max Ernst and Giorgio de Chirico.
During the 1960s, Gleeson created numerous works relating to ancient Greek myths of freedom through heroism. By the late 1970s, his heroic figures were replaced by technological gadgets and space-age machinery. 'Having experienced the idea of man as the measure of all things, I began to deconstruct that concept and link up with earlier thoughts about man being limited.' Gleeson came to believe that man could be represented by 'an arm, a hand, and an eye'.
In 1983, Gleeson entered the most productive period of his painting career and embraced a different format that included a dramatic increase in scale and a shift in technique. Initially based on small drawings made of rock-pools on the Queensland coastline, his scene paintings transport the viewer to an alternative reality.
'I think of Surrealism as a kind of Expressionism; not just emotions, but the subconscious part of experience and expressing it.'