Painting Forever: Tony Tuckson
Tuckson and Tradition
This survey of Tony Tuckson's paintings and drawings is exciting because we can see the development of his abstraction. We can follow his paintings from the intimate, faces and family portraits of 1946, to the powerful abstractions of 1973. It is important to spend time in front of the paintings to understand them. The artist's marks and gestures, the often 'larger than life' scale, and the luminosity of the colour, have a direct affect on the viewer.
paintings and drawings of people
How people look on the outside
Activities for Primary Students
Sit down in front of the paintings with a clipboard, paper and pencil. If you are using the website make the images as big as possible. Try drawing No title (Green boy) 1954No title (Man in a coat and tie) 1951 or No title (Woman trying on a hat) 1951. Try drawing the person. What do they look like? What sort of person are they? Look at the lines and patterns in the drawing. Try it quickly a few times. Is Tony Tuckson's person bigger or smaller than a real person?
Sit in the middle of the room with your paper and look very carefully at the paintings. Draw the outside shape of the painting. Is it a square or long and thin? Is it made of two pieces of wood or one? Look at the lines and marks in the painting and draw the shapes they make. Try doing this a few times. Do the shapes and lines remind you of something? You could write down your ideas. Can you see the same lines and shapes in more than one of the paintings?
lines and actions. What sorts of marks and lines are there in the
paintings? What would it feel like to paint them? Put your pencils
down, stand in the middle of the room, and try to make the same
kinds of marks Tony Tuckson used in the air with your hands. Then
try drawing the marks and lines on large sheets of paper. Try these
materials – newspaper and charcoal or thick graphite pencils. Think
about whether you need to draw quickly and roughly or slowly and
Your group could try this game. Each person chooses a different word that describes a movement or feeling. Experiment with drawing lines that describe the words. For example, 'lightning', 'floating like a bubble', 'hiccups', 'smoke rising after you put out a candle', 'something growing', 'feeling angry', 'stretching'! Experiment with how fast or slowly you can draw. Do you need to use your whole body or just your wrist? Do you use the point of your pencil or the side of your charcoal? Do you press your pencil hard or softly on the paper?
The language of Abstraction
Composition – Comparing early and late works
Study some paintings
and drawings from Tuckson’s early figurative work such as No
title (Self portrait No.1) 1950–51 and No title (Green boy) 1954. Make some drawings or diagrams of these works to understand
their structure. Repeat this process with the late abstract paintings
such as White over red on blue c. 1971, Black, grey, white c.1971 and No title (White sketch) c.1973. Can you see any visual
connections between the early and the late paintings?
Think about the direction of lines. How are lines repeated throughout
the composition of the work of art? Do you see echoes of patterns
from the early paintings and drawings in the later ones? Think about
the kind of brushstrokes the artist used to make the painting. Is
it the gentle touch of a brush or the wild gesture of a moving body?
For different paintings, try to describe the sense of being in the
body that made the marks. How would you move in space and what kinds
of feelings would those actions generate? Try making some drawings
with very fluid paint, similar to what Tuckson used, the way you
move, and the way you feel.
Spaces and Shapes
Compare the early and late works. Do shapes or spaces seem more
important in different pictures? How does Tuckson’s sense of space
change? Can you see examples of creating space through overlapping
shapes or lines? Does the picture space extend outside of the boundaries
of the work or stay confined within the edges? Sit in front of different
paintings and describe the sense of space in them. For example, Black, grey, white c.1971 and No title (White sketch) c.1973. Do the abstract marks
and spaces remind you of anything in the real world?
Think about the size of the works. When you look at a small work, how does this affect the way you relate to it? When a painting is bigger than your body it forms a space around you. Study Tuckson’s late paintings such as No title (White sketch) c.1973. If you have not seen the painting, measure up the size of the painting in a real space. What sort of feeling does the painting give you? Can you imagine what it felt like to paint it? Try some drawings or paintings yourself where you radically change the scale. Repeat the same image on a large scale and a small scale
Describe the colour. What moods or sensations does colour create in the work of art? Do the colours remind you of the observable world or feelings? What kind of light do the pictures generate?
Cross Cultural Influences
Tony Tuckson’s paintings reveal many different cultural influences. He was influenced by Aboriginal painting from Arnhem Land and his collection of Melanesian grave posts. While working at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and travelling on study tours overseas, Tuckson explored Asian art and researched contemporary art styles from Europe and America, in particular Abstraction and Abstract Expressionism.
Look at some images of Aboriginal paintings from Arnhem Land and Melanesian grave posts (on the NGA website). Draw some of the Aboriginal images and some of the early paintings of Tony Tuckson looking at the way both artists use line and shape to portray animals or landscapes and combine interior and exterior views. In Aboriginal painting, the shimmer produced by white rarrk or cross-hatching reveals the presence of the sacred. Using paint, make colour studies to explore the way Tuckson used colour and light in the later paintings.
European and American Painting
Tuckson was interested in American Abstract Expressionism and greatly admired the work of Jackson Pollock. It is interesting to explore the relationship between Jackson Pollock’s Blue poles 1952, oil, enamel and aluminium paint on canvas, National Gallery of Australia and Totem Lesson 2 1945, oil and enamel on canvas, National Gallery of Australia. You can find these paintings on the NGA website in the collection search section. Make some drawings of Tuckson’s paintings particularly Black, grey, white c.1971, White over red on blue c.1971 and No title (White sketch) c.1973, where you explore shapes and marks, colours and scale. What visual relationships can you see between Tuckson’s later paintings and the Melanesian grave posts?
Research European Abstraction, particularly Action painting and the Tachists such as Pierre Soulages, (b 1919) and Hans Hartung (1904–1989). The National Gallery of Australia publication European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870–1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 is useful. Think about the way artists like Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) or Henri Matisse (1869–1954) may have influenced Tuckson’s work. Terence Maloon’s essay Tuckson and Tradition in the exhibition catalogue fully explains Tuckson’s influences.
These books are all available in the National Gallery of Australia Shop. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to order.
Caruana Wally, Aboriginal Art, London: Thames and Hudson World of Art Series, 1993
Desmond Michael and Lloyd Michael, European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in The Australian National Gallery, Canberra: Australian National Gallery, 1992
Legge Geoffrey, Free Renee and Thomas Daniel, Tony Tuckson, Roseville, NSW: Craftsman House, 1989
Maloon, Terence, 'Tuckson and Tradition' catalogue essay in Painting Forever: Tony Tuckson, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 2000