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  Gwen Leitch Harris

In painting, I try to make an image that has an aura of stillness, quietness and calmness; a poetry that hints at the beauty of the world.  I hope to give the viewer an experience of centeredness and peace…the work is intuitive not conceptual. 
Gwen Leitch Harris, Adelaide August 2002

Gwen Leitch was born in Burnie, Tasmania in 1931 and studied painting and drawing at the Hobart Technical College from 1947 to1951. Her talents were recognised by her mentor and teacher Jack Carington Smith. In 1953 Gwen was the recipient of a Tasmanian Government Travelling Scholarship. Then, in 1954-1956 Gwen attended The Central School of Arts and Craft, London and studied with Patrick Heron and Roger Hilton. Both Heron and Hilton became her life-long friends.

In 1956, Gwen took up studio-residence at Patrick Heron’s house “Eagles Nest” in Cornwall. She was  subsequently awarded a British Arts Council Studio, which enabled her to continue her painting while living and working in St Ives. Through 1958 to 1969 Gwen was a part of this vibrant arts community. From 1959 to 1961 she was a part time curator for the Penwith Arts Society and the Fore Street Gallery. Gwen managed Bernard Leach’s Craftsman Shop for two years and at that time met Gwyn Hanssen Pigott. They too became life-long friends. In 1959 Gwen Leitch married an English painter, Jeffrey Harris. 

Gwen Leitch Harris’s life involves being an artist, mother and teacher.  Over time, the attention she gives to these different roles fluctuates. Gwen’s life as an artist was put on hold for 15 years while she raised four children. However, over this period, her psyche was nourished by a close-knit community of fellow artists, their work and their conversations. Possibly, this was a time for reflection; possibly this was a time in which her vision of her own art took a stronger form.

In 1970 the Leitch Harris family moved from England to Tasmania. While in Tasmania, Gwen briefly taught painting and drawing at the Tasmanian School of Art – the school at which she had once been a student.  In 1971 they moved to Adelaide and both Gwen and Jeff Harris worked as art teachers; both were later appointed as lecturers at the South Australian School of Art. As the demands and intensity of family life diminished Gwen quietly resumed her painting in 1973. In 2002 Gwen’s artistic achievements were recognised through the exhibition Gwen Leitch Harris Survey Exhibition: A journey -  ‘home is where one starts from’. The exhibition consisted of drawings and paintings from 1953–2002, and was held at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and the Burnie Regional Art Gallery.         

Sitting in Gwen’s studio is a privilege. The studio is in the quiet of her backyard in Rose Park, Adelaide and she shares it with her husband. It is an organised space.  A large wooden drawer is filled with both artists’ drawings and works on paper. The volume of work speaks of their commitment to making art. Recent paintings are propped up against a wall, others are hung or drying. Some are still in progress.  

Gwen’s work area is surrounded by a collection of small visual diaries filled with page markers and clips. Detailed notes, handwritten observations and pastel drawings are clipped open and are used as  source imagery for her new studio work. The atmospheric landscapes and seascapes include Cornish coastline, Tasmania, Kangaroo Island and Sydney Harbour. Water is a consistent subject in Gwen’s work. The sky too, is a dominant element in her work. Soft pastel drawings of these landscapes are worked directly from observation and are completed mostly in situ. Only sometimes are they developed and refined in the studio.

Gwen also paints still lifes: cups and flowers and other objects she shares her daily life with. She has also painted portraits of her friends, family and of herself. Her work is gentle and her observations from a natural world of realism are transformed into reductive formalist compositions. Her poetic ability in interpreting colour and composition onto a flat surface, enables her to shift familiar subjects into intimate oil paintings and pastel drawings. A serene beauty and love of colour is inherent. Gwen’s paintings and drawings express a desire for simplicity.

October 2004

Gwen Leitch Harris CV (PDF)