John Wolseley: The Quiet Conservationist
Exclusive to Gippsland Art Gallery, John Wolseley: The Quiet Conservationist presents works by celebrated English-born Australian artist John Wolseley.
Oct 18, 2023

Exclusive to Gippsland Art Gallery, John Wolseley: The Quiet Conservationist presents works by celebrated English-born Australian artist John Wolseley, focussing on those created in the four years that he was living and working in the region (1976–1979) following his emigration to Australia in 1976 to join the teaching staff of the Gippsland Institute of Advanced Education (GIAE) in Churchill.

Established in 1971 (though with its origins in the Yallourn Technical School, established in 1928), the GIAE was a radical art school without any formal course structure or assessment. Instead, students were encouraged to teach and assess themselves. The GIAE made international news, catching the attention of artist John Wolseley in England, who wrote the Head of the Art School, applying for a job. Wolseley joined the staff in 1977, joining other influential figures such as Robin Wallace-Crabbe and Nigel Lendon.

An unconventional artist in many respects, Wolseley shuns traditional approaches to depicting landscape. He engages instead in an organic visual dialogue with a location, which takes into account its history, geology, topography, flora and fauna. The viewer is treated to an engaging narrative of diary notes, sketches, watercolour studies and tracings—often combined into a single artwork.

Curated by Dr Tony Hanning (who himself graduated from the GIAE in 1972 and went on to become Director of the Latrobe Regional Gallery, Morwell, from 1972 to 1982), John Wolseley: The Quiet Conservationist surveys Wolseley’s pioneering art through the lens of his unique approach to conservation themes, which are often embedded within his sprawling autobiographical work. The exhibition presents an affectionate and intimate portrait of a special period in the story of the region’s art, and places works created by Wolseley during his Gippsland period within the greater context of his environmental conservationism. Individual works have been drawn from state and national collections, alongside other regional and private collections and Gippsland Art Gallery’s own permanent collection, which has recently been bolstered by the generous donation of nine works by Wolseley through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program.

In his informative and entertaining catalogue essay, the exhibition curator Dr Tony Hanning writes:

John Wolseley arrived in Gippsland in 1976 with his copy of Rogue Male and his head full of the teachings of the great English naturalist Gilbert White (died 1793), which not only included a kind of methodology for pioneering naturalists, but an understanding of the need for conservation and the effects of environmental degradation.  

He had heard of the Gippsland School of Art and its radical approach to teaching whilst still in England and so having acquired a Volkswagen camper van, headed straight to Churchill where he gained a part time position as a lecturer. In the evenings he would drive into the Strzelecki Ranges behind the Churchill campus and spend the night and part of the next day in the bush. This was no mean feat for someone who had spent most of their life in the relative comfort of one or more English manor houses, the grounds of which were home to deer, rabbits and the odd badger.

As part of the exhibition the Gallery will host an artist talk by John Wolseley on Saturday 2 December at 10.30am (followed by morning tea with the Friends of the Gallery). This is a unique opportunity to hear from a contemporary artist who has exhibited around Australia. Entry to the exhibition and talk are free, however bookings are essential for the artist talk.

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