Vale: Mervyn Moriarty


The sad announcement of the passing of Mervyn Moriarty (1937–2021), one of Australian art’s national treasures, in November, was felt by many Queenslanders. A genuine pioneer and generous spirit, Moriarty passionately believed that art education had the potential to change lives — that it was a fundamental human right, no matter in which far-flung corner you lived. These ideals inspired his boundless vision for taking art education out of the city and into the most regional corners of Queensland and occasionally to northern New South Wales.

In the spirit of egalitarianism and entrepreneurship, Moriarty acquired a pilot’s licence, hired a small fixed-wing plane, and set off in 1971 to, quite literally, take art to the people. It is easy to imagine the impact this plane’s arrival must have had on the tiny remote communities he visited, frequently with distinguished Australian artists in tow. Moriarty’s workshops, and the instructional manuals he left behind, doubtless shaped a generation of Queensland artists and disrupted the isolation of daily life across the state. Today, Moriarty’s vision for sharing skills and opportunity lives on in the Flying Arts Alliance.

An established artist in his own right, Moriarty studied at Brisbane’s Central Technical College, where he learned the principles of colour and composition, and earned strong recognition for his skills as a draughtsman and colourist. Moriarty had a truly unique vision as an artist and founder — a vision that, in the case of the Flying Arts Alliance, he steered safely through unimaginable headwinds. In 1985, Moriarty relocated from Queensland to regional Victoria, where he continued painting for many years with his partner, Prue Acton OBE.

Finalist 1964: The Archibald Prize

Bernard O’Reilly (1903–1975) was an Australian author and a family member that established the O’Reilly’s Guesthouse in the Lamington Plateau, McPherson Range in South East Queensland near Beaudesert. In Portrait of Bernard O’Reilly Moriarty has immersed O’Reilly in the landscape with which he is so identified.

Mervyn Moriarty, Australia 1937-2021 / Portrait of Bernard O’Reilly 1964 / Oil on composition board / 137.2 x 100.8cm / Gift of Mrs Barbara Moriarty 1971 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Estate of Mervyn Moriarty
Mervyn Moriarty, Australia 1937-2021 / Study for ‘Portrait of Bernard O’Reilly’ 1964 / Gouache on paper / 75.9 x 50.8cm / Gift of Barbara Stevens 1992 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © QAGOMA

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Featured image: Mervyn Moriarty c.1970s / Courtesy: