Richard Read on Roger Leevers

Richard Read is Emeritus Professor and Senior Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia. He wrote the first book on British psychoanalytic art critic Adrian Stokes, which won a national book prize, and has published on the relationship between literature and the visual arts, Giotto, Rembrandt, the British Grand Tour of Italy, the history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century European art, art criticism and theory, and complex images in global contexts.

Why am I telling you all this? I hear you ask. Well, because Richard is also an aficionado of the work of Freo legend, now Geraldton-based, Roger Leevers. And this coming Thursday, 4 July 2024, at 6-7.30 pm at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery UWA, at an event titled Richard Read – Another reading of the America’s Cup era, Roger’s work will feature front and centre.

At the very beginning of the 1990s, having travelled from the Eastern States on the Indian Pacific, Richard Read commenced at UWA as a Lecturer at what was then the Department of Fine Arts. He was soon appointed to the Board of the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery. And before long he was introduced to the work of Roger Leevers, whom he viewed as an ‘extremely original outsider artist,’ though he says Roger would not own the term.

Roger’s work was indeed original, including on blackboards to be found around Freo at that time, some of which have survived and you’ll see and hear about when Richard speaks.

With Roger’s kind permission (as the copyright in the following images remains with Roger) here are some images of Roger Leever’s work.

Roger’s work also reflected his experience as a mariner, including driving a mooring line boat at Freo, as these linocut images dating from that time illustrate.

As Richard Read comments: ‘[Roger’s] art is devoted to startlingly frank moments of elation set on land and sea where work or play has taken him. During the 1980s, while part of the Fremantle Arts scene, which, amongst others, included Giles Hohnen, Evelyn Kotai, George Haynes and Jane Martin – whose daughter Sally he worked with – he earned $10 an hour chalking off-beat blackboard ads for meals and the new boutique beers in Fremantle pubs.’

Richard explains that no trace of these intrinsically ephemeral works would have survived without the urgings of George Haynes to photograph them systematically, though city-slickers in the know would take the train from the CBD to sample his latest crop of hip productions.

Read notes that: ‘Spontaneously drawn under pressure of time, censorship and the artist’s colour-blindness, they present oblique but biting satires of the excesses, fads and fetishes of the ‘WA Inc. era.”

During his talk, Richard Read will attempt to recover something of the original context of Roger’s forgotten work from copies and interviews provided by the artist and how it makes the recent and local past both intimately present and very, very strange.

As well as his famous blackboards, Gary Burke, another unsung Freo legend, and great admirer of Roger’s work, tells me that, back in the day, Roger did most of the t-shirts for Gary’s Bungarra band, and the artwork for the cassette (and later cd) ‘Harbour Lights’, as well as blackboard art for Gary’s book on feral animals and weeds — ‘More than pests’ — and a fab portrait of Georgiana Molloy that was used on the front cover of the invasive weeds conference in 1994.

Gary explains he didn’t have the heart to erase these blackboard artworks and Richard Read will have them on display at his talk. Untouched after 30 years, Gary says the chalk has survived and they remain impressively intact.

Through Richard’s talk you are bound to experience some of the exhilaration and reflect on some of the ironies that flourished in the art world in Western Australia, particularly Fremantle, the epicentre of the America’s Cup defence, in the late 1980s.

As you can sense, Richard’s talk will be fully illustrated. It will also nicely complement THE END OF HISTORY exhibition currently on at the Wilson gallery.

This is an event not to be missed.

While entry is free, it is strongly recommended you reserve your place for the talk right here, right now.

See you there!

By Michael Barker, Editor, Fremantle Shipping News


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