QAGOMA pays tribute to Brisbane painter Gordon Shepherdson (1934–2019) who passed away in July – an enduring presence in the local art community over many decades, Shepherdson was known for his unique approach to expressionist figuration. People, flowers, animals, the night sky and his favourite fishing spots – he painted them from memory with both brush and fingertips. Shepherdson’s process was tactile, meditative and direct, and engaged his deep sensitivity for his subjects.
Born in Brisbane, Shepherdson attended Gatton Agricultural College for two years from the age of 14. He left his studies for an office job in 1950, followed by a stint of itinerant farm work. At 18, Shepherdson returned to Brisbane, where he worked in the shipyards during the day and attended art classes at night, first with Caroline Barker at the Royal Queensland Art Society in 1951, and ten years later with Jon Molvig and Andrew Sibley. For 23 years, he worked in an abattoir to support his wife and children; his workplace providing subject matter for his paintings on occasion.
Shepherdson often cast his subjects against dark blue, deep red and pitch black backgrounds, giving definition to his searching forms and heightening the rich colours of his enamel paints. The dark spaces of his paintings also emphasise the serious introspection that informs their making – Shepherdson infused his work with a strong sense of the profundity of existence, the luck that we are here at all amid the darkness of the universe. As bleak as this outlook may seem, it also embodies a sense of the miraculous.
The artist painted regularly until recent years, limited only by his failing health, and his works are held in public and private collections around Australia. Gordon Shepherdson is remembered by family and friends for his immense kindness, good humour and generous spirit, attributes he preserved to the end of his life.
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The stoning of St Stephen 1989, The reason 1989, and Lorca’s horse 2005 are currently on view at the Queensland Art Gallery.
Feature image detail: Gordon Shepherdson The stoning of St Stephen 1989