Fred R WILLIAMS: artist

Not On Display

About the work

Fred Williams began his study of art at the age of sixteen when he enrolled at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School, where the training was academic. His attendances at other classes conducted by George Bell introduced him to Cezanne and modern art, and further studies in London at the Chelsea Art School and the Central School of Arts and Crafts reinforced these influences in his painting and his concentrated learning of etching.

Returning to Australia early in 1957, he held his first one-man show in Melbourne and from then on exhibited regularly there and in Sydney, as well as internationally. In London he had worked as a picture framer and continued to do so in Australia until 1963, when he was able to support his family through his art.

Williams was innovative, bringing a fresh vision to the Australian landscape by reducing it to its essentials, emphasising the sparse qualities of plants and making this simplification into a pattern of colour and light glowing from within rather than losing itself in atmosphere.

His 'Sherbrooke Fores' and 'Sapling' landscape series of paintings, gouaches and etchings marked the emergence of his mature direction in 1961-62. In the following year he won the Rubenstein Scholarship and was able to travel throughout Europe during 1964.

The 'You Yang' landscapes, interrupted by this tour, were resumed in certainty of style, utilising dots and marks of paint, at first round a geometrical figure and then more freely dispersed. This style developed to broader handling in the 'Upwey' series and in 1967 he won the Wynne Prize with the painting 'Upwey Landscape V'. The 'Upwey' bushfire paintings graphically described the dramatic impact of the menace of a fire which had threatened Williams's home.

Another fire was the cause of real disaster when an old factory, where over eighty of his paintings were stored, burned down and more than forty were seriously damaged.

During the 1970s he changed his method, working directly from the subject rather than in his studio and using a palette of more primary colours. He became interested in seascapes, rainforest and the inland desert and produced a number of portraits.

Williams has been recognised as a major influence on Australian painting, revered by young emerging artists as much as by his peers. He travelled and exhibited in Europe, America and China and won many awards for both paintings and printmaking. His death at a relatively early age was a great loss.

John Brack, a lifelong friend, said in the eulogy he delivered at Williams's funeral, 'He changed the way we see our country, an achievement which will live long after all of us are gone'.

Despite this preoccupation with the country, Williams professed no affinity for the bush. 'I don't want to live in it', he said, 'I only want to see it from a distance. I couldn't say I loved the bush... I simply want to paint pictures from it'.1

'All Australia is much the same country; a big flat worn-down country. The desert or outback part of it is exactly the same as the coastal strip, but with its skin pulled back. My particular talent is that I see things in terms of paint'.2

Ella Fry, Gallery Images, St George Books, Perth, 1984

References: 1and 2, Anthony Clark, The Age, Melbourne, 12 July 1980.
Artist/Maker and role
Fred R WILLIAMS: artist
oil on canvas
152.4 x 182.3 cm (sight)
Credit line
Gift of Clifton Pugh, 1987
The State Art Collection, The Art Gallery of Western Australia
Accession number

This is one of the paintings in our collection.