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Australian art

Contemporary art

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Colloquy with John Keats



Garry Shead


1942 -


This drawing is based on two scandals of Australian cultural life that occurred in 1944: the Ern Malley literary hoax and the court case that followed the award of the 1943 Archibald Prize to William Dobell. These two affairs have since become defining events in the history of the debate between avant-garde and conservative tendencies in Australian culture. The Dobell case is referenced in the left sheet of the drawing, where there is affixed a 1944 press clipping, ‘Art’s intolerance to art’, referring to the case in which two artists, Mary Edwards and Joseph Wolinski, filed a case in the Equity Court against the AGNSW trustees for their decision to award the 1943 Archibald Prize to Dobell for his portrait of Joshua Smith. Their central contention was that the painting was not a ‘portrait’, but was, rather, a caricature, and therefore ineligible for the prize.

The title of the drawing – 'Colloquy with John Keats' – is taken from the eponymous poem by fictitious poet ‘Ern Malley’, whose series, 'The darkening ecliptic', was published by editor Max Harris in the autumn 1944 edition of the literary journal 'Angry penguins'. The 17 poems of the series were in fact written by two conservative young poets, James McAuley and Harold Stewart, who were highly critical of modernist tendencies in contemporary literature. They composed The darkening ecliptic in an afternoon using stream-of-consciousness technique, choosing words and phrases from a dictionary, a collected Shakespeare and a book of quotations.

Shead’s drawing makes lyrical reference to key figures in the Ern Malley affair, including Ern Malley himself, as well as extracts from the poems and references made or evoked in them. For Shead, ‘Ern Malley became the symbol of the creative spirit at odds with a materialist world in which he is always an itinerant, an outsider and ultimately a sacrifice’ (Sasha Grishin, 2008). Shead’s longstanding interest in the controversy and appreciation for the intrinsic quality of the poems has been expressed in paintings, drawings, collages, prints and ceramics, and shown in a series of exhibitions on the theme between 2003 and 2005 and a book by Sasha Grishin, Garry Shead: the apotheosis of Ern Malley, published in 2007.

This work won the Dobell Prize for Drawing in 2004 and was acquired by the Gallery in 2004.


Place where the work was made

Sydney New South Wales Australia



Media category


Materials used

pen and sepia ink, wash, collage on two sheets of ivory wove paper


102.0 x 152.0 cm each sheet; 111.6 x 160.9 x 3.1 cm each frame

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.r. on left sheet, pen and black ink "Garry Shead 04".
Signed and dated l.r. on right sheet, pen and black ink "Garry Shead/ July-Aug 04".


Gift of the Trustees of the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation 2004


Not on display

Accession number


Dobell Prize for Drawing

Winner - 2004

Artist information

Garry Shead

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Shown in 3 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 10 publications


Elizabeth Fortescue, The Daily Telegraph, ‘Inspired by fraud’, pg. 72, Sydney, 27 Aug 2004, 72 (colour illus.). Shead is pictured standing in front of the work.

Elizabeth Fortescue., The Daily Telegraph, ‘Shead’s top drawer win’, Sydney, 21 Aug 2004. page number unknown

Sasha Grishin AM, Garry Shead: the apotheosis of Ern Malley, Collingwood, 2008, 112–113 (colour illus.), 114–117 (colour illus. details).

Rosalie Higson, The Weekend Australian, ‘Fictitious poet inspires Dobell-winning drawing’, pg. 10, Canberra, 21 Aug 2004-22 Aug 2004, 10 (colour illus.). Shead is pictured standing in front of the work.

Peter Hill, The Sydney Morning Herald, ‘Line honours’, pg. 19, Sydney, 04 Sep 2004-05 Sep 2004, 19 (colour illus., detail). Spectrum supplement

Hendrik Kolenberg, Contemporary Australian Drawing: 20 years of the Dobell Prize for Drawing, ‘Introduction’, pg. 6-14, Sydney, 2012, 9, 42, 43 (colour illus.), 61.

Hendrik Kolenberg and Anne Ryan, The Dobell Prize for Drawing: 1993-2004, ‘Prize winners’, pg. 15-39, Sydney, 2004, cover (colour illus., detail), 38 (colour illus.), 39 (colour illus.), 50, 54.

Jude McBean, The Daily Examiner, ‘Drawing is making its mark’, pg. 24, Grafton, 11 Sep 2004, 24 (illus., detail).

Sharon Verghis, The Sydney Morning Herald, ‘Insightful artist finds truth even in a literary hoax’, pg. 23, Sydney, 21 Aug 2004-22 Aug 2004, 23 (colour illus.). Shead is pictured standing in front of the work.

Robert Whitehead (Editor), The Sydney Morning Herald, ‘Exhibitions: critic’s picks’, pg. 27, Sydney, 17 Sep 2004-23 Sep 2004, 27.