Important Australian + International Fine Art
15 July 2020


(1921 –1973)

synthetic polymer paint on composition board

122.0 x 183.0 cm

bears inscription verso: …son (Watters 1970) No 54

$150,000 – 200,000
Sold for $184,091 (inc. BP) in Auction 61 - 15 July 2020, Melbourne

Margaret Tuckson, Sydney
Watters Gallery, Sydney
Hugh Jamieson, Sydney
Private collection, Sydney


Tony Tuckson Paintings, Watters Gallery, Sydney, 27 May – 13 June 1970, cat. 54 (dated as c.1962 – 65)
Tony Tuckson, John Firth-Smith: Two Sydney Painters, Monash University, Melbourne, 10 June – 3 July 1975; Mildura Arts Centre, Victoria, 24 July, cat. 1 (as ‘Black, Red and White, 1962 – 65’)
Tony Tuckson 1921 – 1973, a Memorial Exhibition, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 10 April – 9 May 1976, cat. 61 (labels attached verso, illus. in exhibition catalogue, p. 43, as ‘No. 54 Swirly Reds and White’)
Abstraction, 22 November – 9 December 1978, Watters Gallery, Sydney, cat. 11 (dated as ‘1964?’)
Tony Tuckson Paintings 1949– 1970, Broken Hill City Art Gallery, New South Wales, 22 June – 21 July 1984; Lewers Bequest & Penrith Regional Gallery, New South Wales, 2 August – 27 September 1984, cat. 14 (illus. in exhibition catalogue, p. 23)


Thomas, D., Free, R. and Legge, G., Tony Tuckson, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1989, pl. 101, pp. 96 (illus.), 183

Catalogue text

After working in private and relative isolation for over twenty years, the Deputy Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Tony Tuckson eventually overcame his sensitivity to potential conflicts of interest to exhibit sixty-five of his own paintings at Sydney’s Watters Gallery in May 1970. The effect was cataclysmic, with the reclusive arts administrator proclaimed almost overnight to be Australia’s greatest action painter and abstract expressionist, and works immediately purchased for both the state collection of New South Wales and the National Gallery of Australia, whose physical gallery was still twelve years away from being constructed. The large and vigorously triumphant work, descriptively titled by the artist Swirly Reds and White (TP54), c.1964, was included in this, the first and penultimate solo exhibition of Tuckson’s artistic career and remained in his widow’s collection for several years after his premature passing. Following this, the painting toured in several important retrospective exhibitions.

As an artist, Tuckson was driven by a relentless pursuit of personal aesthetic refinement, absorbing and processing the diverse artistic influences to which he was exposed in his professional role at the art gallery, in particular his pioneering work with Aboriginal and Melanesian arts. His abstract works follow a progression of simplification and intensification of gesture, coalescing into distinct series. Swirly Reds and White (TP54), numbered painting 54 in Tuckson’s chronological classification, belongs to a group of particularly energetic and bold paintings completed between c.1960 and 1965, collectively titled ‘Red, Black and White paintings’ for their restricted chromatic palette. Many of these featured prominently in the 1970 Watters show alongside Swirly Reds and White (TP54).

The Red, Black and White paintings in particular, proudly display each stage of Tuckson’s skilful creative process. The result is a vast surface animated by a cacophony of self-assured expressive gestures – cumulative shapes and single wavering lines each jostling for prominence above an undertow of shifting planes of pure colour. Critic James Gleeson spoke of Tuckson’s ‘rare and wild energy without parallel in Australian Art’,1 whereas David Thomas described the ‘great freshness’ of these paintings.2 The undeniable immediacy of expression and bold declamatory force of this painting derives from Tuckson’s vast repertoire of varied marks used to cover the support – stretching all over the picture plane, putting into practice the new American approach to abstract painting in which each area of the composition was given equal importance and attention. This is in contrast to other paintings of this series which divided the canvas into sections of colour in a manner reminiscent of Mark Rothko. Broad swathes of semi-opaque and milky white wash are here overlaid with violent slashes of dripping scarlet paint, placed beside scribbled spirals, planes of cross-hatching and two rows of rare stippled daubs of pure white paint on an expanse of inky black. Unapologetically broken lines wander across the plane, prefiguring the sophisticated minimal gestures of Tuckson’s later works.

John Henshaw was quick to note the combined influences of American abstract expressionism and Melanesian tribal graphic design in Tuckson’s works of the early 1960s, stating the red and black works were characterised by an ‘emblematic use of shape, somewhere between [Robert] Motherwell and shield design’.3 Prominent geometric shapes such as crosses, squares, swirls or letters also helped to distinguish paintings from one another, influencing titles and adding to Tuckson’s symbolic vocabulary, unique in the Australian abstraction of the time. Tuckson is remembered for his clarity of gestural expression, which is yet to be surpassed in the history of Australian Art.

1. Gleeson, J., ‘Creative Violence’, The Sun, Sydney, 18 April 1973, p. 36
2. Thomas, D. et al., Tony Tuckson, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1989, pp. 35 – 36
3. Henshaw, J., ‘Stunning Combinations’, The Australian, Sydney, 6 June 1970