Important Australian + International Fine Art
2 May 2012


born 1942

Ern Malley Series
oil on composition board

63.0 x 45.0 cm

signed and dated lower left: Garry Shead 03

$55,000 - 75,000

Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide
Private collection, Sydney


Garry Shead, The Apotheosis of Ern Malley, Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide, 2003

Catalogue text

Having first read the Ern Malley sequence The Darkening Ecliptic in 1961 when only nineteen, Garry Shead's interest in the story was re-awakened in the mid 1990s when a friend made a gift of a full set of the Angry Penguin journals. What ensued for Shead was an obsession which was to result in a suite of paintings, ceramic vessels and prints along with a number of publications.

Described by Sasha Grishin as 'a general philosophical exploration of the idea that a creative person in this material world is almost inevitably a sacrifice',1 the characters here in The Black Swan of Trespass represent the full cast of the Malley affair. Central to the composition is Ern, crowned with the poet's laurels and doe-eyed in his posture of the surrogate Christ. An alternate reading suggests that the figure is Max Harris, twenty-two year old editor of the Angry Penguins, victim of the hoax itself and set to be crucified by public opinion. To the right are James McAuley and Harold Stewart in their army uniforms, agents of the Malley affair which was ultimately to become their creative legacy. Also present, in this painting from the cycle as she is in almost every work by Shead, is the figure of the muse. At once Malley's girlfriend Lois and Mary Magdalene to the Malley Christ, the muse is also a portrait of Shead's wife Judith.

The Black Swan of Trespass takes its title from Durer: Innsbruck, 1495, the first poem in the Ern Malley sequence. The poem itself laments:

I had read in books that art is not easy
But no one warned that the mind repeats
In its ignorance the vision of others. I am still
The black swan of trespass on alien waters.

As noted by Sasha Grishin at his opening speech for the 2003 exhibition at Greenaway Galleries, 'Shead is an artist who subscribes to what is now an unfashionable theory that the artist is a medium who surrenders to his Muse. Although he is an exquisite technician who has spent forty years mastering the skills of the old masters, in the final analysis, as he notes in his journal 'Ern Malley emerges from the blank page'.'

1. McDonald, J., 'The Eternal Ern', Quadrant Magazine, issue six, 2009