The seagull

Born Sydney, Australia 1904, died Sydney 1984


John Passmore studied in Sydney with Julian Ashton and George Lambert, and independently in Europe between 1933 and 1950. During this time and throughout his career, Passmore studied the work and ideas of Paul Cézanne. His earlier paintings, hovering between figuration and abstraction, show the French artist’s influences in colour, texture and form.

During the 1950s Passmore taught at the Julian Ashton School where his studio had views over Sydney Harbour, the inspiration for many paintings. Participating in Direction 1, a group exhibition of abstract art at Macquarie Galleries in Sydney (1956), had a strong influence on his practice, providing Passmore with the impetus to explore his theories of the unconscious act in art-making and to experiment with abstraction.

The seagull (1958) shows this influence and was painted at a time when Passmore was increasingly pursuing abstraction. It is one of a number of small abstract paintings the artist made on newspaper and reflects a spontaneity characteristic of his gesture in this later expressionistic period. The work also illustrates the reduction of his palette to more somber tones, in which tertiary colours of black, brown and grey feature strongly.

A major retrospective of Passmore’s work was organised at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1984, and he was included in The Antipodeans, Challenges and Response in Australian Art 1955–1965, National Gallery of Australia (2000). His work is represented in the National Gallery of Australia, most state and regional galleries, as well as university and public collections.