Date published: 21/03/2014
We were saddened to hear of the passing of one of Australia’s greatest artists, Brian McKay. Brian was a leader in the Australian contemporary art movement who used his talent to explore and articulate his perception of our world, community and the social and political issues that so often informed his art and life.
Brian was represented by Perth’s Galerie Dusseldorf, here a tribute from the gallery’s Director, Douglas Sheerer.
Brian McKay AM
18 March 1926 – 10 March 2014
Brian McKay … Artist, human being, husband, father, grandfather, friend, colleague, visionary, teacher, mentor, social activist, humanitarian, innovator … has died on the very cusp of his 88th birthday. There is now a huge vacuum where he once stood.
Brian was born in Meckering in 1926, and grew up in Northam Western Australia. He was chosen to represent Australia as a child artist in the 1938 New York World’s Fair. Subsequently, he decided at the age of eleven, he wished to become an artist. To this end he successfully achieved his dreams and aspirations, although interrupted by WWII.
In 1961 Brian was invited to join the 'Perth Group' with artists Guy Grey-Smith, Robert Juniper and Tom Gibbons. In 1964 he took his family and went to live and work in Greece, travelling on to London in 1966 where he continued his studio practice for some ten years, creating artworks many of which were sent back to Australia for exhibition.
He returned to Perth in 1975, joining the 'Praxis' group and in 1981 he became part of the legendary 'Media Space' Group. Dedicated to improving the state of the arts in WA he played a major role in the formation of the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art. He was Chair of the PICA Trust from 1985 – 1988. In 1982 The Art Gallery of Western Australia held a major survey of his work.
Much of Brian's time over the past two decades was devoted to teaching painting and printmaking at Perth Central TAFE, whilst continuing a constant exhibition schedule at Galerie Düsseldorf and creating iconic major public artworks.
In particular, the gigantic wall works in the foyer of the Central Park building in Perth CBD, the sculpture of the Penrose Impossible Triangle at a major traffic intersection in East Perth, a large mural for the ABC, and an effervescent ceiling work for the New Maritime Museum in Fremantle.
His love affair with ancient scripts and typography never left him, as any visitor to the expansive Central Park Building Foyer will experience. In particular, the ancient Greek monuments and textual renderings experienced first hand by Brian left him in no doubt as to the richness and importance of 'the written message'.
McKay’s work is held in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia, The Art Gallery of Western Australia, Bunbury Regional Gallery, The Holmes á Court Collection, UWA, Curtin University of Technology, Edith Cowan University, Fremantle Arts Centre, Royal Perth Hospital, Charles Gairdner Hospital and many private collections across Australia.
A great conversationalist with lots to tell, Brian exuded a charismatic charm that was loaded with a gentle but firm passion for what he believed in. He was a polite, resolute and intelligent man, not afraid to take on the big issues in life, society and art. Brian was also very generous in his thoughts and opinions about other artists and arts professionals. Although he was very much a hands-on man and master technician, he also embraced new technologies and the internet.
He was also writing his memoirs for the Fremantle Art Centre Press.
Brian McKay was a passionate artist and a true believer in the importance of Contemporary Art in society and the rightful place of Art in the wider community.
He will be sorely missed.
We thank Douglas for his kind words and pass on our deepest sympathies to the McKay family during their time of loss. Brian’s work will be forever celebrated and a lasting tribute to this great man. It seems fitting to quote T.S. Eliot, whom Brian quoted himself on his self-portrait in the City of Bunbury’s art collection,
“To do the useful thing, to say the courageous thing, to contemplate the beautiful thing: that is enough for one man's life.”
– T.S. Eliot.
Video courtesy of David Carson.