This website is Dedicated to the Memory of Antony Symons
16th November 1942 – 25th February 2018
The apple tree now bends to the ground
paying homage to mother Earth
with countless red tinged apples.
Joining this celebration, swaying
long stemmed naked lady lilies
the colour of raspberry ice cream…
nod seductively beneath the tree
as I watch from the loungeroom window.
Dog Casso has fleas again, while
I had to hang the mosquito net and
the night air is thick with moths
and bats and spiders grow fat.
But the water skink by the fishpond
may have been eaten by a copper-head
I nearly trod on that snake one morning
in bare feet enjoying the cool paving stones.
Written by Antony Symons for his grandson Ted
Many of Antony’s works are now on display at The Old Lithgow Pottery School of Art – Stable Gallery
Few Lithgow people knew that a certain grey-haired figure they would see around town in worn, paint-stained overalls was not (only) an accomplished craftsman but an artist whose technical and artistic finesse permitted him to work as easily with wood as with paper and inks; in hollow cast bronze as in ‘found art’, mosaic, oils, watercolours or concrete, to adopt for one work the restraint of a Chinese motion and brush, in another meticulous realism, and in some other again the emotionally charged movements and brushwork familar from western works of the twentieth century.
Apprenticed to a European artist from the age of twelve, Antony Symons studied first at home in Sydney and then abroad, the warmth of the Greeks towards artists being something he remembered fondly.
His years spent in mastering his art, his constant emphasis on technical ability, together with his working-man’s dress could have lead the unwary to suppose Symons some ‘artisan made good’ ~ but his work itself soon corrected that error and showed the opposite to be the case; that Symons’ range of professional accomplishments freed him to adopt not only the media, but the specific techniques which will best expressed his intention and the innate character of the intended work. (On this point see the essay “Symons’ Birds“)
Respect for past masters was thus balanced in his pieces by a healthy interest in modern works and post-post modernism; in perfection of realism and simultaneously in deconstruction. To follow a theme through his six decades of work is an exercise in illumination, and to the present writer it seems that Symons’ work was preoccupied by the still-unresolved (and increasingly urgent) question of nature and humanity, of realism as the true reflection of a natural state and simultaneously of the need for human beings to labour within (and thus inevitably to alter) the balance of that same nature which is our environment.
Interestingly – and due not least to his having mastered the techniques of classical and modern artists before him – Symons did not mark out his own work by claiming some idiosyncracy as definitive – as his ‘style’. His own practice was at once more original and less egocentric, for he moved easily across a remarkably broad range of styles in his expression. That is to say, his repertoire was so broad that he was able to adopt a quite specific technique for using his pencil, pen, brush, wax or bronze to suit a given piece, in just the way a conventional painter might choose his palette or (to use a different metaphor) as a golfer might choose the right wood or iron.
Symons’ philosophy, in combination with his artisanal range, meant that this artist required of himself not only that he could maintain his vision through every particular stage of a creative or technical process, and that he do so as a matter of course. Thus Symons’ sculptures began at the practical level with a choice between pencil, charcoal and paper, then continued through each separate stage of the practical formations.
Until his last few years, he himself did the work of casting even his larger than life sculptures in bronze. Once he entered his eighth decade, Symons recently was obliged to employ the services of a Sydney foundry for the physical effort of casting, but it was indicative that for the work, Dancing with Strangers, his imagination and technical knowledge together enabled him to produce forms unlike any others yet seen in that medium. For this to be possible, Symons had to invent a new detail within the stages of the traditional casting method – though of course that detail is still presently the master’s trade secret.
Because Symons’ emphasis was always equally on conception and technical execution, it was not rare to see among his visitors from abroad and dedicated art-collectors, some professional worker in timber or in metal. Many Artists have demonstrated and openly expressed their gratitude, to reproduce one of the master’s works, just as students did in previous centuries as part of their own apprenticeship.
Symons’ traditional Chinese tea-house temple (set in the sculpture garden below his studios at Rydal) manifested a similar willingness to follow in the footsteps of earlier generations. He constructed its frame in the formal Chinese manner, without use of either nails or screws, resting it simply on blocks of wood and stone.
His bronzes (such as the hollow-cast solid bronze torso or his work Judith) show mastery of, and respect for, classical and later works. But such demonstrations of understanding for works of the past should not lead one to overlook Symons own ability (and indeed pronounced tendency) to treat the same traditions to satyrical and ironic comment.
In this regard, one might mention, for example, his 2 Arps make a Moore, a work made in two sections, each repeating a single element from a sculpture by Jean Arp, but in being offset one against the other, made to form a piece which evokes the style of another twentieth century sculptor, Heny Moore.
Symons considered sculpture to
be his principle element,
however, he left behind
a remarkable body of work
in great diversity of mediums