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Andrew Sibley, The Trolley Pushers and other works

Andrew Sibley: The Trolley Pushers and various Works

Andrew Sibley Self portrait NGA

The Artist

In a career that spanned over five decades, Andrew Sibley was one of Australia's most prolific artists and one that is justly significant. The role he played in the contemporary Australian art field and those artists that influenced his works are a major point of study for any would-be art historian. According to the Art Nomad website, Andrew Sibley was one of the Australia's best-known and appreciated of the 20th Century artists.

According to Art Nomad, Andrew Sibley was born in Adisham, Kent, England on the 9th July 1933. After a brief spell living in London the family moved back to Kent when their  home was destroyed during the London Blitz. In 1944, Sibley was awarded a scholarship to Gravesend School of Art (later the Medway School), where he studied with fellow students including English artist Peter Blake (Peter Blake is best known for his pop art).

The Sibley family migrated to Brisbane, Australia in 1948 and moved again in 1949, to Stanthorpe, Queensland's premier wine and apple-growing area, about 250km southwest of Brisbane. Sibley and his father picked fruit, eventually buying their own orchard. He left the farm in 1951 to undertake National Service Training with the Royal Australian Navy after which he spent a short time working in Port Moresby in PNG before returning to Brisbane.

Though often living an impoverished existence, Sibley began formal training as a painter in Brisbane in the latter 1950s and worked with artists like Charles Blackman, Clifton Pugh, Jon Molvig and Ian Fairweather.

Brisbane of the 1950s and 1960s had seen the emergence of aesthetic modernism in the theories and practice of twentieth century European art movements. Jon Molvig and Roy Churcher became the nuclei of two different art groups that enriched the local art milieu.

Sibley became a key member of the so-called “Brisbane School” together with Molvig, Churcher and Ian Fairweather.  In 1960, he held his first solo exhibition at Rowes Arcade Gallery in Edward Street Brisbane. A key work that year, The Shire Hall (1960) is indicative of Sibley’s strong emerging style and use of colour.  In 1962, Sibley exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery in London and was included in “Australian Painting Colonial, Impressionist, Contemporary” at the Tate Gallery, London. Indeed, 1962 was a significant year for both Sibley and Australian art itself; his star suddenly soared when he won Australia's richest art award, the £1000 Transfield Art Prize for his painting The Bathers. At the same time, the prominent Sydney gallerist Rudy Komon signed Sibley and he joined a stable of Australia’s best contemporary artists including Melburnians Fred Williams, Clifton Pugh, George Baldessin, John Brack, Leonard French and Jan Senbergs, as well as Jon Molvig, John Olsen, and Robert Dickerson. Sibley’s exhibitions received strong attendances and critical acclaim while his work was bought by state galleries and private collectors. In subsequent years, he was regularly hung in the Archibald, Wynne and Blake prizes. It is notable that from 1960 to the end of his life, Sibley had more than 60 solo exhibitions to great commercial success.

He was also noticed outside of Australia. In 1963, Sibley was shortlisted in numerous prizes and was hung in “Australian Painting Today touring Europe”, and “Young Painters Biennale”, Paris. By the mid 1960s, Sibley’s paintings were being included in significant exhibitions in both Japan and the USA in Washington.

After meeting his future wife Irena Sibley (née Pauliukonis) in Brisbane in 1967, Sibley followed her to Sydney, where they were married. The Sibleys later moved to Victoria, making their home in Melbourne. Sibley was also a significant art educator. He was a Senior Lecturer at RMIT University from 1967-1987 and Head of Painting at Monash University from 1990-1999.

A perfectionist, one of Sibley’s biographers recounts that he once destroyed about ten years’ of work, the artist having described it as "hopeless pictures". Nor did his career always follow an upward trajectory. He eschewed the changing fashions of art and according to David Thomas in Andrew Sibley: An Epic of the Everyman, Sibley followed his own "increasingly unpopular figurative path while much of the Sydney art world celebrated the freedom and revitalisation of abstract expressionism."

Nevertheless, Sibley was ultimately recognised both in Australia and internationally. In 1970, he had work included in an exhibition titled "Miniaturen '70 International" in West Germany, and undertook a residency in West Berlin in 1972. Sibley’s connection to Germany continued throughout his life with two more shows in the mid-1970s and later in the mid-1980’s where he showed on numerous occasions in Cologne; a retrospective of his work was held in Berlin in 2017.

Most significantly artists such as Max Beckman, Paul Klee, Edmund Munch, Francis Bacon directly influenced him; Sibley’s affinity with German and European Art was based on more than just his exhibiting there. He explored and followed the work of these major artists of the 20th century - and those that he was a contemporary of. These artistic touch points remained a key part of his work throughout his life and highly successful career. Indeed, during the 1970s the popularity of his works fluctuated  among the country's art establishment as Sibley eschewed a trend toward a more nationalistic style of expressionism in favour of aaEuropean influenced aesthetic.

Sibley liked to draw and paint in series and focus on ‘types’ in his portraiture. Explaining his motivation, he wrote: "(This) series reminds us of our primal and natural instincts to be a part, or rather, respond to nature - to love, to own our passions.”

Interviewed as one of six artists in a film focused on male Australian portrait artists filmed by Tim Burstall in 1965, Sibley says of his approach to portraiture: “I like to paint particular types; the hands, I feel are very important in a portrait.”  Painting fellow artist Jon Molvig, he said, “I’ve always considered Jon to have a fiery exterior a mix between Don Quixote and a matador-type figure and so (I used) reds and yellows moving into more delicate whites and greens.

Following a nasty fall in which Andrew struggled to recover from, he passed away in 2015.

The Australian Pieta by Andrew Sibley

The Works of Art

The University of Canberra is very fortunate to have a sizable collection of Andrew Sibley's paintings and drawings that range from the large scale canvases such as the Australian Pieta and Feel Good Factor to ink drawings and book illustrations. Sibley's works can be viewed as social commentaries, which at times can be quite a savage reflection on human relationships. His definitive use of colour and dramatic outline communicate a dimensional depth that ranges from the universal existence  to singular statement of individual experience.  Sibley is quoted as saying 'I find inspiration in the human condition. I like to feel my works have that necessary aesthetic ingredient that they can be enjoyed int terms of colour, patterning.... I'd like people to enjoy them... but just with a quiet shudder now and again.'

The Trolley Pushers by Andrew Sibley

Trolley pushers is an ink drawing created by Sibley in 1988. It is a typical work of commentary on the human condition for a series called 'Urban Saints'. The series of drawings that include 'Sydney', 'Uluru', 'Paris', 'The Artist' and Winter in Salzburg' were created in 2002  as illustrations for a book of poems by Rudi Krausmann. They are typical of Sibley's figurative style.

Artist by Andrew Sibley Paris by Andrew Sibley

Sydney by Andrew Sibley Winter in Salzburg by Andrew Sibley

The choice of some of Andrew's subjects matters may be perceived as deliberately provoking in order to shock. Take for instance, the Feel Good Factor. This large work was inspired by Sibley's encounter with a group of drug addicts near the River Yarra. One of the party had over-dosed and it resulted in her dying. It makes uncomfortable viewing certainly but it is meant to stop, provoke and provide a point of conversation.

The Feel Good Factor by Andrew Sibley

References

Art Nomad: Andrew Sibley Entry 2018: https://www.artnomad.com.au/artists/artist.cfm?id=1161 accessed 20/04/2020

Dewi Cook, 2015, Sydney Morning Herald ' Melbourne Painter Andrew Sibley dies: https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/melbourne-painter-andrew-sibley=dies-20150904-gjf5q9.thm

Eddy Kewley Art: Andrew Sibley: https://www.eddikewleyart.com.au/andrew-sibley/ \