Important Australian + International Fine Art
29 August 2012


(1915 - 2008)

oil on canvas

132.0 x 177.0 cm

signed and dated lower left: Gleeson 96
signed and titled verso: “PARNASSUS INTERCHANGE” James Gleeson

$35,000 - 45,000
Sold for $36,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 26 - 29 August 2012, Melbourne

Deutscher~Menzies, Melbourne, 22 November 1998, lot 267
Sullivan and Strumpf, Sydney (label attached verso)
Private collection, Sydney

Catalogue text

'In its labour, the mind seeks to return into the past - into a world of pre-human organism; of substance pulsing with the life-force, but not yet evolved into humanity. We become aware of the convulsive struggle of matter to shape itself toward its human destiny.'1

Parnassus Interchange 1996 typifies Gleeson's conflicting views of man as only a small part of the grander forces of nature and his earlier exploration of man as the measure of all things. Within this example of Gleeson's work one is able to see the full range of his career's interpretations of humanity and the unconscious. The deconstruction of the human form in surrealist terms can be seen in the protean and anthropomorphic forms that are present. Parnassus Interchange is inherently a genesis scene consisting of the interaction between pre-human protean forms, chrysalises, and the make-up of humanity that ranges from musculature, sinews and bone to the perfect human form. All of these forms are surrounded by the generative, undulating, seascape that harks back to CarlJung's definition of the unconscious.

The final period of Gleeson's career saw an amalgamation of his previous approaches to the representation of the unconscious and the human form. The sea has been a poignant symbol of the unconscious since Greek mythology. The mutable shape-changing sea god Proteus's inextricable link to the ocean made him a symbol also of the unconscious. In fact, Carl Jung defined Proteus as the personification of the unconscious. Gleeson most certainly understood these links between psychoanalysis and mythology and throughout this series of works we find rich panoply of shape changing, protean forms in the process of transformation as they merge with sea, sky and land.

This interplay of concepts is rooted in Gleeson's work and since the 1960s he began to regularly incorporate the figures and ideas central to Greek mythology. While a sense of the dark forces of the underworld abound in his work, he also introduced neo-platonic ideas of physical perfection rendering goodness and purity. The title of the painting refers to Mount Parnassus, which was named after the ancient Greek leader Parnassos who moved his people there after a great flood. It is also an important site in Greek mythology and was often painted by the Renaissance artists. Mount Parnassus was the sacred home of the god Apollo and the muses, thus it became associated with the arts, music and poetry. Parnassus Interchange is a summation of many of Gleeson's ideas around evolution, the unconscious and the metamorphic process from pre-humanity culminating in a Neo-Platonist vision of perfection, as represented by the reclining God-like figure in the top right-hand corner.

1. Gleeson, J., in Free, R., James Gleeson: Images from the Shadows, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1993, p. 34