Saturday, July 29, 2017


By  our  art  correspondent  Ponsonby  Willis
The    portrait of  one of  Australia's most colourful  gallery owners  and  art  dealers,  Ray Hughes, above,  by  Chinese artist Jun Chen,  was  runner up  this  year .  It was the second  time Chen  had   represented Hughes in  the Archibald Prize , the  first  in  2009  selected  as  a  finalist .  Chen  decided to  paint  another portrait of  Hughes  after  attending his  70th birthday last year , Ray, unwell ,  in  a wheelchair.

From various sources , including  Magnetic Island , North Queensland ,  I have  collected  ephemera  and  anecdotes about  Hughes  relating to his  early days as a   gallery  owner  in Brisbane , with  political  friends who went on to become prominent  in   federal  and   state   governments.  
Typical of  Ray's  flair and  audacity  is  the invitation  on a Robin Hood tobacco  packet  to an  exhibition  by sculptor , artist  and print maker   Tony Coleing  at  his  second  Brisbane gallery , Enoggera Terrace , Red Hill,  in the  1970s. It matched  the  style of  works  by  Coleing , spread over almost half a century ,  said to be infused with  humour and a satirical cutting edge . He represented Australia  at the 1980 Venice  Biennnale  , is  in the collections of  several  leading  Australian  galleries , Te Papa Museum in  New Zealand  and  the  British Museum .   
 From the same  period  are  two  items of ephemera  , above ,  for  painter and teacher    Roy Churcher , husband of   the  late   "Betty Blockbuster " Churcher , prominent Australian  arts  administrator, director of the  National Gallery of Australia,  an early art  critic  for  The Australian .The Churchers  ran  a  studio  in  Brisbane . 

The top item  is a simple  invite to Roy Churcher's notes  from Europe  and a display  card   for   recent   Roy Churcher  paintings stamped l978 .

The  Australian Financial Review  ran an interesting  interview with  Hughes in April 2014   , conducted in  a  fancy Sydney restaurant  , Beppi's , written by   Katrina  Strickland .   During the  lively  exchange , Hughes , then 67, recalled   his early start  in  the art world in Brisbane  in  1969  , his later move to  Sydney  in 1985  where he  took over  the stock and  gallery  of   Rudy  Komon  . His son , Ewan , who had read Art History at Cambridge  and had worked at the Mayor Gallery in London  joined  him  in  Sydney .

In   Brisbane, Ray    had  been in a  Young  Labor branch  along   with  Wayne  Swan , Peter Beattie , Steve Stockwell and  Arch Bevis . Also discussed during the long, fluid   luncheon , which  started  with a   Henschke grenache , were  his two ex-wives ( one of whom  later addressed him  as  Mr  Red Pants)   and  leading   figures in  the  art  world  .
The  paper  reported that Hughes made this  profound statement   about  expensive Grange  wine : "Grange  is something knuckleheads  give  to  knuckleheads ." It was  about  three hours  after the NSW Premier  Barry O'Farrell, a friend of his ,  had  resigned   over failure to record the fact  that he had  been  given  a  $3000 bottle of  Grange, saying he  had  no  memory of  receiving the  gift .
Asked  what makes a  real artist  ,  Hughes , after a long pause, replied :  “Addiction." So who had it? “Freddie ­Williams had it. [Ian] Fairweather must have had it to live in a funny old shack and get a cab driver to take his pictures down to Brisbane. At his very best,  Bill Robinson had it. He was mystified by the landscape, you could see him tripping over himself trying to find something."The article included  the  following artistic photograph of  Hughes by Louise Kennerley

Ray had been Jun Chen's art  dealer  for  many years  and  together they had travelled to China , Hughes introducing  contemporary  Chinese artists  to Australia  as  a  result .
Stored  away on Magnetic Island  is said to be  an unusual piece of  pottery-a  goblet-on  which  the  ebullient  art  dealer's  head  is  one of  three  on  the  base .