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Gary Shead: The Knighthoods

The Artist

According to the  Philip Bacon Galleries website, Gary Shead,  ' one of Australia's most celebrated contemporary figurative painters, with his work steeped in allegory and symbolism, inviting spiritual, philosophical and historical interpretation'. Based in regional New South Wales, Shead remains one of the country’s most distinctive artists, whose rich career spans film making, cartooning, writing, printmaking and painting.

Shead studied at the National Art School in Sydney during the early 1960s during which time many of his cartoons were published in the The Sydney Morning HeraldThe Bulletin and Oz magazines.2 Following his studies, Shead worked as scenic artist with ABC TV between 1963 and 1967 and began his travels overseas. It was while travelling in the New Guinea Highlands the artist first read the letters of the English novelist and poet, D.H. Lawrence.4

Shead’s  interest in D.H. Lawrence was shared by his friend, Brett Whiteley, and in the early 1970s the pair travelled to Thirroul, NSW where Lawrence had briefly stayed on his travels to the United States with his wife Frieda .5  It was in Thirroul, in the early 1920s, that Lawrence completed the novel Kangaroo. The pair worked collaboratively on a portrait of Lawrence, the proceeds of the painting’s later sale allowing Shead to travel and work in Paris .6 In late 1991 Shead completed a collection of drawings based on Kangaroo, and in March 1992 began work on a series of oils known as the  D H Lawrence series that  were exhibited with Philip Bacon Galleries in 1993.7

Following the D H Lawrence series, Garry Shead produced The royal Suite (of which The Knighthoods is a part of). The series depicted a young Queen Elizabeth II in the Australian landscape and were informed in part by the artist’s own childhood experience of being taken by his school (as were so many youngsters) to Sydney’s showgrounds to welcome the young Monarch during her national tour of Australia in February 1954.8

Hung as a finalist in the Archibald Prize many times, in 1993 Garry Shead won the prize with a portrait of his friend Tom Thompson, a Sydney based publisher. The following decade, in 2004, the artist won the Dobell Prize for Drawing, AGNSW.9  Shead has also won the Young Contemporaries Art Prize in 1967 and international art prizes in both Paris and  Venice during his travels. 10  Shead's works of art are represented by a  number of  galleries including the National Gallery of Australia, , the Art Gallery of NSW, the Art Gallery of South Australia and many regional galleries.11

The Knighthoods by Gary Shead

The Work of Art

As noted above, The  Knighthoods is a significant work in the University's art collection having formed part of Gary Shead's  Royal Suite. The work was painted around 1995 using oils onto hardboard. It depicts the young Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh standing behind in the outback knighting a group of kangaroos. This picture is a great conversation piece.  Significance has been  given to the work for its republican  tones  at a time when  republican sentiments were in the foreground. Why is Australia  governed by a monarchy twelve thousand miles from the country? Is the action of knighting kangaroos merely poking fun at  the idea of  the awards system?


1Philip Bacon Galleries, 'Garry Shaead', Philip Bacon Galleries, accessed 4th May 2022,

2 Ibid

3 Ibid

4 Ibid

5 Ibid

6 Ibid


8 Ibid

9 Ibid

10 Alan & Susan McColloch, The Encyclopedia of Australian Art,  Unwin and Allen, St Leonards, p637

11 Ibid.