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Eulogy by Fiona Lawry

I have been charged with the somewhat daunting task of speaking today about Gillian the Artist. Daunting because art was so central to Gillian’s life and also because there are so many others in the art community, no doubt present today, who may be more qualified or who may know other parts of her career that I don’t. None-the-less I am greatly honoured and will do my best to do Gillian the Artist the justice she so well deserves.

I first met Gillian in the mid to late eighties when I was a student and she my lecturer at the Canberra School of Art. Art School in those years was a rich and vibrant place – a heady mixture of good resources due to the ACT being federally funded, the excellent quality of our lecturers - many of them from Europe, the atmosphere of intellectualism and experimental creativity, and above all a wonderful sense of community which lecturers like Gillian helped to create by socialising freely and generously with the students. Gillian would often come along for a drink to the Friday Happy-hour. You knew Gil had arrived when you heard “HELLO DUCKIES!”

GILLIAN THE TEACHER

  • Gillian trained first at the Lancaster College of Art as a painter in the early 60’s and completed her graduate studies at Hornsey College of Art, London in 1968.
  • She then got her first job as a printmaking technician at Garnett College, London and stayed for three years.
  • In 1972 she had moved to Australian and joined the Printmaking Department as an Intaglio and Relief Lecturer.
  • She worked in the department in various capacities, including numerous stints as Acting Head of Department, until 1994 when she left to start the new Computer Aided Art Studies Department at the school of art.
  • It was then that her exploration into innovative and unconventional printmaking techniques began.
  • After 25 years of lecturing she retired from the Art School in 1997 to concentrate on her art practice.


Gill was a much loved and admired teacher and became a mentor and an inspiration to many of her pupils. She was tireless and selfless in her teaching and rigorous in her critique and analysis.

I remember when I first joined the department Gillian described in no uncertain terms my early attempts at original image making as “adolescent”  - which at the time was fairly hard to take. Later, under Gillian’s patient tutelage I began to explore more authentic and personal concerns through explorations of feminism and body image. Now I definitely had Gillian’s approval – and we really hit it off!



Gillian has always known how to break down the barriers between student and lecturer without loosing respect or authority. Gillian did not judge people by what level they were at, be it first year student or a practicing artist doing postgraduate studies.

An example of this is of when I was at about third year level in my studies she was instrumental in organising an exhibition for a small number of us – both lecturers and students of figurative work at the Print Council of Victoria.


As evidenced in the blog provided by Julian, there are many accolades and comments about Gil’s abundant and generous teaching style and over the past few months I have become acutely aware of how important, influential and nurturing Gillian was as a mentor and teacher to so many. 

Artist Tanja Reese recently described to me how shortly after the birth of her second son, Gillian came to visit her near Bega and spent a week of her time to teach Tanja the basics of Photoshop.

“She was always prepared to share openheartedly her research and her knowledge.”

Tanja also describes dropping in on Gillian at very short notice in August 07 in Binalong while she was printing the last of her etchings in preparation for her Megalo show, and how Gil graciously dropped what she was doing to play host to an old student and friend.


GILL THE ARTIST

Creatively Gillian had a unique vision and was unafraid to tackle difficult subjects including feminist concerns, religion and male violence – often making difficult, confronting and challenging imagery. These were subjects that she explored with enviable intellectual rigor – her personal library is diverse and amazing – Her last series – The Journey of the Cardinal’s Head - exhibited recently at Megalo, was the culmination of at least a decade of work and thorough artistic investigation on a single theme.

Career highlights

  • As many of you will know, undoubtedly the highlight of Gillian’s artistic career was wining the Blake Prize for Religious Art in 1990 – the first time a printmaker had won the prize and she was an atheist to boot!
  • Other achievements include
  • Being selected as a finalist in the Sulman Prize (2005)
  • Being profiled in many publications including Australian Printmaking in the 1990’s, Sasha Grishin, Craftsman House
  • She had work in - 
    • the collection of the National Gallery of Australia
    • The Print Council of Australia, and
    • Galleries in Belgium, Poland, Italy and Brazil
  • A long list of exhibitions both in Australia and throughout the world.


Personally, I often felt frustrated for Gillian when I perceived a lack of recognition of the work of such a senior artist. She never had a commercial gallery. I once made an appointment for her and we went to show her work to the curators at the National Gallery of Victoria – they loved her work but alas had no money to purchase any.

Like many artists, after leaving her tenured position at Art School, Gillian would at times have to work as a fruit picker in the late summer to make ends meet. She was still doing this when she was 60!

Gil was characteristically pragmatic about this. For Gil, making the work and living her life as an artist was the most important thing!

LIVING THE LIFE OF AN ARTIST

She was generally self-effacing about her achievements as an artist and was not one to blow her own trumpet or seek self-promotion. Art was simply at the core of who Gillian was. She was engaged and single-minded about her work. Always thinking about the next image or the next project, how to push things further, her research of imagery and technique.

Although Gillian had many important and significant personal relationships in her life, my personal feeling is that Gillian’s primary relationship was with her artwork – such was the level of her commitment and engagement.

Right up to the end of her life Gillian was observing things as only an artist and a visual thinker does.

Although ravaged by the Cancer, when I visited her in hospital before Christmas, Gil was still noting and making visual observations… about the room, the view, the changing light, her hospital surroundings. She even made a comment to a senior surgeon about how lovely his surgical outfit was. To which I understand he was gruff and unresponsive – Obviously he had never met an artist before!

* (I would like to close with a personal note now)

TO GILO MY FRIEND
Here is a woman in whom there is much to admire!

  • Encouraging, supportive, intellectual, thoughtful, inquisitive, open-minded and inspiring.
  • Tough, single-minded and unafraid to tell people what she thought and believed in.
  • Sensitive, loving, generous, warm, openhearted, young at heart, tolerant and a humanist.


Gillian leaves a legacy of important work and important relationships and communities behind her. 

I am proud and honoured to have had Gillian first as my lecturer and later as my mentor and close friend for 20 years. Without Gillian’s belief in me as an artist I would have given up years ago. 

I greatly admire you Gillian for your dedication to your life of art and ideas, for your open-mindedness, your tenacity and the strength of your convictions. The personal struggles you have overcome and your dedication to and concern for others. 

Rest in heavenly and divine aesthetic peace my friend.


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jules mann,
11 Jul 2009, 19:30
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