click to enlarge Tropical Scene

Oil on Canvas
125 x 177cm
Private Collection – Melbourne

Limited edition Giclee archival prints of this painting are available for purchase. Paper size: 42.0 x 60.0 cm

A 21st Century Artist

I recall clearly the first time I saw one of Anne’s images. I had started working as the Art Gallery of Western Australia in early 1995 and promptly took myself into the storage areas to begin familiarising myself with the Collection. On one rack was this vibrant drawing of people at a caravan park, clustered around tents and barbeques, and executed in a clear linear fashion. As a nostalgic fan of British cartoons of the 1950’s it reminded me of the well-fed and gentle with of Norman Thelwell, ‘the unofficial artist of the English countryside’.

Fast forward to 2000, and I’m in Melbourne working at Gould Galleries when in walks a woman who identifies herself as Anne Marie Graham. Her drawing springs to mind, she expresses amazement that I recall it – and a long partnership has its genesis. I have now been working for Anne since about 2003 in a steady capacity, usually once a week on a Wednesday morning, assisting, administering, corresponding, hanging paintings and often wrapping them. There’s also the varnishing, tracing, under-painting and even – rarely – an inclusion by my own hand, such as the dog in Children’s Games. Overall, there is the friendship, the verbal sparring, the shared observations and insights and, most importantly, the platter of cold meats and salads for lunch. This may seem a trite inclusion, but the sharing of meals and its allied conversation are equally crucial to Anne’s view of the world. You see this in the people who occupy her paintings. I’m not going to pretend I’m a great fan of her figure paintings (she knows this) but I’m also not going to ignore the attitude of her characters, the way one slumps his shoulders as he talks to a pretty girl, how a toddler reaches out to pull up a plant whist her mother’s back is turned, how a small hound has a standoff with a hissing black swan. It is Anne’s alertness to human behaviour that underlines much of her paintings’ charm. And her works are, indeed, charming. Not to use that word as a negative; rather as a verb that they do indeed charm. Viewers get drawn in to discover the finer details and find themselves enveloped by their minutiae.

Whist acknowledging the amazing effort involved in her magnum opus The Garden for all Seasons, I personally have a stronger attraction to her lush scenes from far-north Queensland, perfectly encapsulated by such paintings as the verdant vision of Tropical Scene 2003. It is in this work and its thematic companions that the lazy application of the term ‘naïve’ gets a real run for its money. All are individually designed and tightly composed abstractions (or meditations) on nature. Colours are graded, magnified in some, muted in others, pushed way beyond their limits in yet others still. I have often used the word ‘audacious’ to describe Anne’s play with colour and here I shall use it again. For her exhibition at the Gippsland Art Gallery in 2012, I got my chance to push it too siting her paintings on burnt orange and citric green walls. The effect, not surprisingly, was electric and, even more importantly, contemporary. A totally different audience got to see her work in setting that spoke directly to its strengths, and not a few younger artists’ saw exciting possibilities where many established curators only see obstacles as a result of their own blinkered philosophies. They just refused to comprehend her work and are poorer as a result.

Andrew Gaynor
Curator and writer; assistant to Anne Marie Graham since 2003