George Baldessin

George Baldessin was integral to the dynamic revival of printmaking in Melbourne during the late 1960s and into the ‘70s. Renewed enthusiasm for the expressive possibilities of printmaking saw it develop as an important medium for a young generation of artists who, like Baldessin, were also sculptors and painters.

In a short but intensive career as a painter, sculptor and printmaker, George Baldessin attracted critical acclaim from peers and audiences alike, admired for his expertise in intaglio printing (etching) and his radical figurative style during the 1960s and 70s when abstraction was dominant.

Being Human: The Graphic Work of George Baldessin, which opens at Heide on 3 May 2014, focuses on Baldessin’s powerful prints and drawings, created between the artist’s exhibition debut in 1964 and his untimely death in 1978, aged thirty-nine.

This exhibition focuses on Baldessin’s powerful graphic oeuvre, presenting prints and drawings in the Heide Collection created between the artist’s exhibition debut in 1964 and his untimely death in 1978, aged thirty-nine. Drawn from a recent gift from the artist’s estate the works will be shown together at Heide for the first time, complemented by a selection of prints by the artist’s contemporaries, including Roger Kemp, Les Kossatz, Jan Senbergs and Fred Williams, which provide a vivid context for considering this aspect of Baldessin’s art.

The exhibition includes seventeen works recently gifted to the museum by the Estate of George Baldessin, which will be exhibited together at Heide for the first time, along with prints from the Heide Collection by Baldessin’s contemporaries including Roger Kemp, Les Kossatz, Jan Senbergs and Fred Williams, which provide a vivid context for Baldessin’s work.

Baldessin attracted critical acclaim for his sophisticated command of intaglio printing and his radical approach to the human figure’s potential in art during a period dominated by modes of abstraction. The body and its bittersweet associations is the primary subject of the artist’s graphic work. The artist’s distinctive silvery-grey and black-and-white images of female nudes and dramatic figure tableaux—which draw on the surreal world of the circus and European New Wave cinema among other influences—are at once both emotionally confronting and poetic, offering meditations on the body as the concrete basis of experience.

The artist’s distinctive silvery-grey and black-and-white images of female nudes and dramatic figure tableaux—which draw on the surreal world of the circus and European New Wave cinema among other influences— are at once both emotionally confronting and poetic, offering meditations on the body as the concrete basis of experience.

George Baldessin was born in Italy in 1939 and immigrated to Australia with his family in 1949. He studied painting at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) from 1958-61, but was also drawn to the activities of the printmaking and sculpture departments. After graduating he travelled to Europe then London where he attended printmaking classes at The Chelsea School of Art before commencing studies at the Brera Academy, Milan under the Italian modernist sculptor Marino Marini. He returned to Australia in 1963 and in 1964 he became a part-time lecturer at RMIT, the same year he held his first solo exhibition of prints, drawing and sculpture at Argus Gallery.

Baldessin went on to exhibit in over forty solo and group exhibitions in Australia and overseas. His work is held in many major private and public collections in Australia and overseas, including Museum of Modern Art, New York, National Gallery of Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales, National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of South Australia, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Museums & Art Galleries of the Northern Territory, Queensland Art Gallery, Tasmania Museum and Art Gallery, other regional galleries and university collections. One of his most celebrated sculptures, and the last he created before his death in 1978 is Mary Magdalene 1978-1983 which is part of the permanent outdoor sculpture collection at Heide, on view near the entrance to Heide II, the modernist house.

Heide has worked closely with the artist’s widow, Tess Edwards Baldessin, on this project, and a number of related programs will be offered to complement the exhibition, including a tour of The Baldessin Press. Built by George and Tess Baldessin in the 1970s, the print-making studio now operates as a creative retreat for artists’ workshops and residencies.

Being Human: The Graphic work of George Baldessin
Until 19 October, 2014
Heide Museum of Modern Art

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