Important Women Artists
10 November 2021


born 1942

oil on Belgian linen

137.5 x 182.5 cm

signed and dated lower centre: Garry Shead / 2005
bears inscription with title on stretcher bar verso: ‘The Observers’/ 2005 / …/ 

$140,000 – $180,000
Sold for $171,818 (inc. BP) in Auction 65 - 10 November 2021, Melbourne

Collection of the artist, New South Wales
69 John St, Sydney
Private collection Sydney

Catalogue text

The only way to do justice to a man like Lawrence who gave so much, is to give another creation. Not explain him but prove... that one has caught the flame he tried to pass on’.1

Having first discovered the work of D.H. Lawrence during a trip to Papua New Guinea in 1968, Garry Shead immediately discerned significant affinities between his own experiences and those of the author who wrote his novel Kangaroo while living in the coastal township of Thirroul on his visit to Australia in 1922. As Grishin elucidates, ‘When Shead speaks of Lawrence the word 'synchronicity' features frequently; he uses the word in the sense of the strange coincidences or correspondences... [A]t various forks in the road of his life, Lawrence crops up - when he was in New Guinea and decided he would marry Merril, he was reading Lawrence's letters; it was in Vence, where Lawrence died that he met his wife Judith... He introduced Whiteley to 'Wyewurk', Lawrence's cottage at Thirroul, and it was from the house next door... that they painted their diptych (Portrait of D.H. Lawrence, 1973). Whiteley could also feel the presence of Lawrence hovering around the place; and it was at Thirroul that Whiteley died’.2

Although unfolding against the steep escarpment and sweeping bush backdrop that unmistakably characterises the landscape surrounding Thirroul on the northern New South Wales coast, The Observers, 1992 does not offer a literal depiction of a specific incident from Lawrence's Kangaroo. Exploring universal themes of love and conflict, identity and alienation, the spiritual and the human, instead the work encapsulates the artist's poignant homage to D.H. Lawrence as 'a personal, intuitive response, rather than an attempt to illustrate Lawrence's narrative’.3 Thus, the figures – presumably Richard Lovat Somers and his wife Harriet of the novel – ‘appear strange and ambiguous, taking on the features of Lawrence and Frieda while at the same time, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Shead and his wife Judith’.4 Similarly, the chief antagonist in the novel, prominent ex-soldier and lawyer Benjamin Cooley (whose fictional nickname is ‘Kangaroo’), may here be symbolised by the motif of the omniscient kangaroo looming ambivalently behind the couple enjoying their picnic – the manifestation of a spiritual ‘presence’ rather than a tangible character. A poetic scene – recognisably Australian yet strangely timeless and mythical – indeed The Observers eloquently embodies the drama and enormous sense of anticipation present in the novel where the reader remains ‘... waiting, waiting for something to happen, waiting for this spirit of the land to strike’.5

1. Miller, H., The World of D.H. Lawrence: A Passionate Appreciation, Capra Press, California, 1980
2. Grishin, S., Garry Shead and the Erotic Muse, Fine Art Publishing, Sydney, 2001, p. 94
3. Grishin, S., Garry Shead and the D.H. Lawrence Paintings, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1993, p. 14
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.