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Betts work in rare art exhibition

THE public will have a rare opportunity to view the work of the late WA abstract landscape artist Mac Betts.

The renowned Darlington artist was part of the thriving hills arts scene in the 70s and 80s alongside Howard Taylor, Guy Grey-Smith, Robert Juniper, David Gregson and George Haynes.

His son Michael Betts said he did not want to sell his father’s paintings without the public having an opportunity to view the pieces.

“After my father’s death in 2010 I inherited a large body of his work from his stock room and for the past five years they have sat in the darkness of a storage facility in Fremantle,” he said.

“The exhibition represents paintings Mac completed between 1987 and 1999.

“It is the largest show of his work since 2004 with 13 large scale oils on canvas and 10 works on paper behind glass.

“The painting Inner Harbour from 1987 has been of particular interest to viewers, it is typical of his work during the 80s and shows the origins for his later work in the show.”

Mr Betts said Darlington in the 70s was a mecca for artists and their families.

“It was a kind of happy valley situation with constant parties and informal gatherings,” he said.

“At the centre of all this was Guy Grey-Smith who had an arrangement with a local winery of a lifetime supply of red wine in two-litre litre flagons in exchange for a mural he had done for them.

“The parties were usually all day affairs and often went on late into the night.

“To me as a young child Guy seemed larger than life and I used to listen intently to his grand stories of adventure in the bush.

“One story that does not seem possible now was his claim to removing a small square of his planes fuselage in order to shoot dingos from the air. “

At the time there was a generous bounty on their scalps and aeroplane fuel was expensive.”

Mr Betts said the kids of this generation of artists all went through Darlington Primary School at around the same time.

“The group include the likes of myself, Doug Chambers, David Gregson, Robert Juniper, George Haynes, Leon Pritchard, Bob Birch and Guy Grey-Smith to name a few.

“Darlington at the time was in general still a fairly conservative area and I think its fair to say we did stick out.

“The kids were perhaps a little freer and identified by their slightly longer hair, constant lack of shoes at least on the feet, I wore my thongs on my arms for about five years.

“Our sports uniforms, though they were the right colour for our factions were often tie dyed as well with a multitude of patterns.

“All of this was tolerated and a lot more and I grew up in a wonderful relaxed creative environment where art was on the daily menu and not considered any more special than anything else.”

Michael said his dad fell in love with the north-west landscape immediately after arriving from the UK in 1970.

“He was particularly drawn to the vastness of the landscape and the dramatic light,” he said.

“When questioned about why he paints landscape he said ‘I’d never thought about it but the point is I don’t have any choice, that’s what I do’.No one if they have any integrity as an artist really has a choice about what sort of art form they produce, it’s directly themselves, a reflection of their own psyche.”

Michael said his dad has often been described as a painters’ painter.

“I think this is very true,” he said.

“He lived and breathed painting and had very little attention for anything else.

“He was so focused on the process of painting he showed little regard for the end product.

“He certainly was not interested in self promotion of publicity of any kind and I think exhibitions were accepted as an necessary evil and provided a good way to get rid of old canvases in his studio to make room for more.”

Michael said while his dad’s work was represented in all of Australia’s major institutions and private collections around Australia he attained very little recognition outside of the immediate art world.

“This is possibly due to his reclusive nature and strong dislike of publicity, however I do strongly believe it is time for the art historians entrusted with WA’s heritage of local practices not only to focus on Mac but on Perth’s origins of contemporary art practice,” he said.

“The group Mac belonged to recently tagged as Perth’s Post Colonial Abstract Expressionists form a strong and clear lineage of where we are today.

“My hope is that Macs’ work be further acknowledged for its local significance and that the whole hills 70’s art movement of artists will be brought together in a major retrospective that clearly illustrates their cultural and historical importance.”

The exhibition will be held at The Old Perth Technical School on St George’s Tce until May 29.


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