Nowhere manThe Countryside of Fred Williams after Western Desert paintingby Darren Jorgenson
Two monographs on Australian artist Fred Williams, published by Patrick McCaughey and James Mollison during the 1980s, have recently been joined by a third, Deborah Hart’s Fred Williams: Infinite Horizons (2011). While the first two argue that the artist’s work bridged a schism between Australian landscape painting and an internationalist contemporary art of the 1960s, the rise of Western Desert painting invites a new reading of his landscapes. Ron Radford’s preface to Hart’s new monograph wants to reconcile the artist’s relationship to Western Desert painting with an anecdote about Clifford Possum’s visit to the Art Gallery of South Australia in 1984. Possum was enthusiastic about a painting by Williams, and Radford sees in this enthusiasm a reconciliation of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal ways of seeing. Such different readings of Williams and his work, authored in different historical periods, reflect different moments in the unfolding of national anxieties that constitute the history of Australian art.
Darren Jorgensen lectures in art history in the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Visual Art at the University of Western Australia. He is also art critic for the newspaper The West Australian.