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Australian art

Contemporary art

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Dick Watkins


04 May 1937 -


Dick Watkins' 'Birdland' dates from one of the most the energetic and innovative periods in the artist's practice, the early 1980s. During this time Watkins was experimenting with a number of potentially conflicting 'styles', from an aggressively gestural abstraction to landscape and figure subjects. The bold experimentation in his painting at this time and the exhibitions he held in 1983, which ranged across these various subjects and styles, lead to an interest in Watkin's work by a younger generation of artists as well as his selection to represent Australia at the 1985 Bienal de Sao Paulo. Watkin's seeming eclecticism confused some critics while others saw him as perhaps an accidental post-modernist, described by one artist/writer as an exemplary 'bricoleur', evoking rather than appropriating work by other artists. (Tillers, Sao Paulo Bienal catalogue, 1985).

This particular painting continues in a trajectory in Watkins' painting from the 1970s which recalls the early totemic semi-abstractions of Jackson Pollock. The energetic gestures of the paint have a source, as with Pollock's paintings from the 1940s, in the artists' subconscious and the abstraction is not quite complete as some areas seem to coalesce into forms. Elements of 'Birdland' also recall paintings by Picasso, as well as some of Ian Fairweather's paintings and Tony Tuckson's works on paper. Watkins' ability to call on familiar painterly languages while creating distinctive, energetic and highly original works is one of the strengths of his practice.

The sense of a precursor for this work being found in mid-20th century international abstraction is reinforced by the title 'Birdland'. This refers to the famous New York jazz club established in 1949 on Broadway and named after alto saxophone genius Charlie 'Bird' Parker'. Jazz, with its origins in America, became an international popular avant-garde music in the 40s and 50s. The syncopated rhythms and improvisation of this painting have the vigour, unpredictability and energy of a great jazz performance.




Media category


Materials used

synthetic polymer paint on canvas


170.0 x 170.0 cm

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.r., green paint "RW 81" and u.l. verso, brown paint "R. WATKINS (7. 81)...".


Gift of Dr Colin and Mrs Elizabeth Laverty 2005


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Dick Watkins

Works in the collection


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

Referenced in 1 publication


Michael Desmond, Contemporary: Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection, 'Abstraction', pg.16-59, Sydney, 2006, 56 (colour illus.).