In 1982, Geelong Gallery purchased John Scurry’s painting, Winter, 1981 for their permanent collection. Representative of Scurry’s long-term interest in interiors and still life, Winter reveals an artist studio in sparse repose – a coat is slung over an upturned board, a rag lies crumpled on the table and an open window offers a Renaissance-style glimpse into the rolling landscape beyond.
More than three decades later, Scurry’s Winter is again at the forefront in Geelong Gallery’s inaugural Collection leads project, an annual exhibition built around a standalone work from their collection. Initially intending to exhibit a selection of Scurry’s interior paintings to compliment Winter, Jason Smith, curator and director of Geelong Gallery, changed his mind when Scurry revealed an assortment of postcard-sized paintings on paper. Created over the course of two years and never before seen by the public, the tiny paintings have been constructed from accumulations of excess paint serendipitously wiped onto paper during end-of-day palette cleaning.
A contrast to the precisely ordered interior of Winter, Scurry’s small paintings are formless and atmospheric, evoking only a suggestion of landscape or the misty hues of dawn. Adding to the intimate experience of observing small works, Smith presents Scurry’s paintings unframed on custom-built shelves, encouraging viewers to get close to the paintings, much like documents in a reading room. “The paintings are discreet and unassuming, yet they give a lot,” says Smith. “This is a chance to introduce our audience to something they didn’t know about the artist. Particularly about life in the studio at the end of the day.”
This article was originally published in the September/October 2019 print edition of Art Guide Australia.