Personal collections may tell many stories but viewing “THE McCREA COLLECTIONS: THEN & NOW” at the Butter Factory Arts Centre, Cooroy (30 January to 22 February 2014) is imbued with the influence of Ray Hughes. He is also present in a portrait by Ian Smith, larger than life. Hughes’s legacy as an art dealer is immense, and is no more obvious than through the many collections of those his eye enlivened. The initiative to show this personal collection amassed by John & Lyn McCrea by Noosa Council’s BUTTER FACTORY ARTS CENTRE provides an intriguing insight into the passions unleashed by art and artists, their ability to get under the skin of individuals and to dominate their lives, homes, aesthetics and imaginations.
Hughes is a friend and mentored Lyn McCrea through her ongoing collecting decades. The fallout of those intense years of the 1970s has in many ways continued to shape her creative life as well as her interiors. The hang in the Butter Factory reflects the crowded cacophony of the aesthetic seen in many of the interiors influenced by Hughes – more is better.
Catalogue essay below, courtesy NOOSA COUNCIL & BUTTER FACTORY ARTS CENTRE, COOROY.
Collecting contemporary art was a personal activity in the Australia of the 1970s – a little known and often (literally) a closet passion. Yet Queensland has always punched above its weight in the national contemporary art stakes. The 1970s saw the emergence in Brisbane of two of Australia’s most influential gallerists. National and international art came to Brisbane, fostered by the private sector rather than the public. Commercial activities have always been a crucial part of the contemporary art market – it is private galleries that impact, most directly on the individual, the way that art is received and appreciated. The significant commerce that was based in Brisbane also meant that Queensland artists were promoted, as a direct result, nationally and to the world.
Ray Hughes, one of the most internationally influential operators in Australia, opened in 1969, initially as Gallery 1-11, in partnership with Ian Reece and Narelle Cutcheon.[i] Philip Bacon, reputedly Australia’s most successful gallery, started in 1973. With their different styles, these two galleries have introduced individuals to the pleasure of an art collection, often begun with humble means.
Collector (and artist) Lyn McCrea describes Ray Hughes (and Ian Reece) as her art mentors.[ii] She had been a student of Mervyn Moriarty and his Australian Flying Art School while living in Theodore, central Queensland, during the 1970s. Moriarty encouraged students to buy art and her collecting journey began, shared with husband John. However it was later, when they were resident in Brisbane from 1981, that photographer Glen O’Malley and artist Ian Smith (both lecturers at the Brisbane College of Advanced Education where Lyn was studying) advised her to “see everything at Ray Hughes Gallery and at the Queensland Art Gallery”.[iii]
Hughes’s ambition for his artists and his gallery was significant. In early years he brought the best of contemporary Australian art to Brisbane and developed a culture of discussion, ideas and passion around art and artists. His scope was observed early, with critic Terry Smith writing (in 1971) that, “Anything important that comes out of Brisbane in the next few years will happen through Gallery 1-11.”[iv] After his first international trip in 1974, Hughes began to also show key international art. When he purchased Sydney dealer Rudy Komon’s stockroom and gallery in 1985, he arrived on the Sydney scene (where his son Evan Hughes continues, as The Hughes Gallery, today).
Some decades later, Hughes’s legacy remains visible in Brisbane. Many of the collectors who joined the journey in the early days remain friends. A distinctive aesthetic, a crowded hang, a sense that more on a wall is always possible, is visible in the houses of long term clients. A Brisbane presence is maintained, with art events and social gatherings that continue to draw artists, collectors and friends together with the same emphasis on art and ideas.
For Lyn McCrea, these times remain precious. Now resident on the Sunshine Coast, the pictures that crowd her walls are also capsules of memory. She spent time in the 1980s particularly, learning from Ray Hughes, collaborators on an artful journey. She said, “Ray gets excited at watching people grow. He is a special teacher.”[v]
What unites an otherwise disparate collection – with artistic styles from figuration to abstraction, from minimalism to expressionistic thickly laid paint and social commentary – is a gutsy aesthetic. At the core of it are objects made with love. “I am between an artist and a collector. It is not a highly finished aesthetic that attracts me. To me, art is a visual thing. I get immense pleasure from looking at a painting that works. I get inside it somehow.”[vi]
Many of the artists McCrea met and befriended in the 1980s have national reputations, making manifest the adventurous collector’s ability to buy early and well (although for her, resale is not an option). These include Davida Allen, William Robinson, Ian Smith, Gavin Chilcott, Joe Furlonger, Keith Looby, Peter Powditch, Tom Risley, and Bill Yaxley.
An artful life remains full of pleasure for Lyn McCrea and John McCrea. While they have pursued their collecting journey separately for eight years, for both, art is a given. Old habits die hard.
This collection’s development was strongest in the 1980s, but includes work from as early as 1968 and as late as 2012. A collection is never finished and the McCrea’s generosity, in sharing their visual cacophony of works, opens up their separate but significantly shared interior. There is immense stimulation in this joyous celebration of art – from an extraordinarily heady period in Queensland’s visual history.
Written for NOOSA COUNCIL & BUTTER FACTORY ARTS CENTRE, 24 January 2014
[i] From 1972 he operated as Ray Hughes Gallery, Brisbane. He ran galleries in Brisbane and Sydney from 1984 but closed his Brisbane gallery in 1988 to operate in Devonshire Street, Surry Hills, Sydney.
[ii] Lyn McCrea suggested, “Ian Reece was my other mentor… When I moved to Brisbane, I worked with CAG, Ian’s Brisbane operation, variously as artist, photographer, committee member and tutor, paid and unpaid. When Reece moved to north Queensland, I was one of the people who, with Ian’s blessing, founded and named Hands on Art. I worked for HoA in similar roles until about 1990.” Email to the author, 23 January 2014.
[iii] Notes from Lyn McCrea, “The McCrea Collections – Then and Now”, 2014.
[iv] Terry Smith, ‘Post-Object art in smoke’, in Newsletter, CAS (Qld Branch), July 1971, reprinted from The Sunday Australian, Sydney, 23 May 1971: p.28.
[v] Interview with the author, 18 January 2014. McCrea added, in an email on 23 January 2014, “I still can’t believe I was mentored by these two men [Ray Hughes and Ian Reece] at the height of their professional careers and their fields, who actually started in business together.”
[vi]Interview with the author, 18 January 2014.