James Gleeson

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Artist’s Statement

“I’ve never accepted the external appearance of things as the whole truth… The worldis much more elaborate than the nerves of our eye can tell us…” James Gleeson.


Best known for his series of monumental and apocalyptic organic surrealism paintings,he was also a renowned poet, critic, writer and curator.

James Timothy Gleeson was born in Hornsby, a suburb of Sydney Australia in 1915. He studied art at East Sydney Technical College, and teaching at the Sydney Teachers College.

His first exhibit was part of a student exhibition at the Sydney Teachers College where he displayed his ‘City on a tongue’ in 1938, and he has exhibited regularly since.

As a young man he also enjoyed writing, especially poetry, and for a time he was undecided as to which path to take as a career.

Gleeson taught art at Kogarah Girls High School from 1941-44, and then lectured art at Sydney Teachers College until 1946.

From 1947 to 1949 Gleeson travelled through Europe and studied the work of the ‘old masters’, and the new ‘surrealists’, including Salvador Dalí, Rene Magritte, and Max Ernst.

Gleeson’s became established as a serious art historian when his major monograph on the work of William Dobell, was published by Thames and Hudson in 1964.

Some of Gleeson’s works were donated to the National Gallery of Australia in September 2007 as part of the largest collection of Australian surrealism to date.

His works have been featured at the Art Gallery of NSW, the National Gallery of Victoria and the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, as well as in many Australian art galleries and private exhibitions.

James Gleeson also served in a number of capacities for bodies including:

  • the Teachers Federation Art Society (Sydney)
  • Contemporary Art Society
  • the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation
  • Commonwealth Art Advisory Board
  • International Art Critics Association
  • the National Gallery of Australia

James Gleeson  was awarded membership of the Order of Australia(AM) for services to art in 1975, and holds honorary degrees from Macquarie University, Sydney (1989) and the University of New South wales (2001)

In 1990 James Gleeson was made an Officer of the Order of Australia(AO).