So strong was the pull of the Australian landscape on him that we tend to forget that Williams started as, predominantly, a painter of the human figure. His formative years in London show a focus on the theatre, street life, portraits and animals that produced a body of work that appears more vibrant than his 1950s English landscapes. So it’s interesting to see him abandoning briefly the landscapes that were absorbing most of his energy to re-engage with a subject that could “speak to John Brack”. The work in question was Adagio (The Skaters). This image, derived from a photo, of a male skater holding precariously aloft his female partner prefigures the subsequent series of ballroom dancers in both the tense precision of the bodies and the artificially fixed grins on the faces; it differs in the palette – the figures are bathed in acidic green light.
On this score, it’s easy to see the ‘conversation’: if Brack’s image conveys that puzzled astonishment at the sight of the two protagonists seemingly held afloat in a bulb of light, Williams’s acrobats exude a palpable mix of muscular tension and breathless sweat.
Signature: signed faintly u.r.
Possibly John Brack and Fred Williams, Arts Council Exhibition, Albert Hall, Canberra, 1967.
There are two versions of this painting and it is not completely clear which one was shown; Williams “believed this to be a painting that would speak to John Brack's work on its own ground and felt that it should therefore be exhibited." (Mollison, op cit, 1989, p 117);
Fred Williams: A Retrospective, Australian National Gallery (now National Gallery of Australia), Canberra, and touring, 31 October 1987 - 31 January 1988, no. 77
Fred Williams: A Working Method, National Gallery of Victoria, 15 December 1995 - 12 January 1996, no 30d;
Fred Williams: Infinite Horizons, National Gallery of Australia and touring to NGV and AGSA, August 2011 - November 2012
Patrick McCaughey, Fred Williams: 1932 - 1982, Bay Books, 1980, p 209, pl 113 (Murdoch Books ed, 2008);
James Mollison, A Singular Vision: The Art of Fred Williams, Australian National Gallery, 1989, illus p 116;
Fred Williams: A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, NGA, 1987, cat no 77;
James Mollison, Fred Williams: A Working Method, exhibition catalogue, NGV, 1995, cat no 30d
Deborah Hart, Fred Williams: Infinite Horizons, exhibition catalogue, NGA, 2011, illus p 88
Ronald Miller, John Brack, Lansdowne, 1961, p 90 and 109 see below
Estate of Fred Williams
About Fred Williams
Australian, 1927-1982, Richmond, Melbourne, Australia, based in Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia