Matter painting (painting No. 8)

Born Bothenhampton, England 1890, arrived Australia 1913, died Sydney 1964


A house painter by day, Ralph Balson attended night classes at the Sydney Art School under Julian Ashton and Henry Gibbons. In 1934 he began weekend classes at the school of Grace Crowley and Rah Fizelle which strongly influenced his future art practice. Balson was quick to absorb their knowledge and experiences of European modern art movements, and as a result experimented with figurative, cubist and geometric styles of painting.

By the 1940s his work became abstract, devoid of any representational elements and following a trip to England, France and the United States in 1960 he began his series of Matter paintings. His previous geometric abstracts were now replaced with texture and explorations of the physicality of painting itself, aligning his practice with Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings and the works of European textural painters Alberto Burri and Antonio Tàpies.

Two years after his death in 1964, the Art Gallery of New South Wales organised the exhibition Balson Crowley Fizelle Hinder (1966). His work was included in The Great Australian Art Exhibition 1788–1988, Art Gallery of South Australia and touring all state galleries (1988–89), and a retrospective was held at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne in 1989. Balson’s work is represented in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia, all state galleries and the Newcastle Region Gallery.