Alun Leach-Jones, Noumenon XI blue ikon, 1967. Collection Benalla Art Gallery, Victoria. Gift of the Benalla Apex Club, 1967. The work can be viewed online at https://benallaartgallery.com.au/benallacollection/collection-view/1052789/

When Alun Leach-Jones, at the age of 23, decided to leave England, it was because, he said, he was feeling “hemmed in”. He was also keen to escape the possibility of an “easy, middle-class life of a provincial lawyer or doctor”. Instead he chose to emigrate to what he considered the furthest point away from his homeland — and that was Australia.

He arrived in Adelaide in 1960 where, while studying at the South Australian School of Art, he mixed with other young artists such as Syd Ball, Robert Boynes and Barbara Hanrahan. He also met his wife, fellow artist Nola Jones. Together they travelled to London, and then back to settle in Melbourne and eventually Sydney.

It was during the 1960s that Leach-Jones developed his meticulous abstract painting style. He first came to national prominence after his work was shown in 1968 in The Field, a groundbreaking exhibition of abstraction and colour-field painting at the National Gallery of Victoria. He had a career spanning more than 45 years in which he not only painted but was also a skilled printmaker, sculptor and teacher.

The Benalla Art Gallery, a regional gallery in northeast Victoria, has one of Leach-Jones’s eye-catching paintings, Noumenon XI blue ikon, from his well-known Noumenon series, with its title a reference to philosopher Immanuel Kant. For nearly a decade, from 1964 through to 1972, Leach-Jones concentrated on this series, producing more than 90 paintings and 40 prints that feature a central circular area where small organic shapes form seemingly complex puzzles.

Noumenon XI blue ikon, from 1967, was one of the first acquisitions for the Benalla Art Gallery, says gallery director Eric Nash. The painting was exhibited in the 1967 $1000 Acquisitive Art Exhibition staged by the local Apex club to coincide with the annual Benalla Rose Festival. Patrick McCaughey, at the time an art critic and later director of the National Gallery of Victoria, judged the exhibition and recommended the acquisition of Noumenon XI blue ikon. The painting can be viewed online and in a gallery collection video at https://benallaartgallery.com.au/on-the-up-the-benalla-art-gallery-collection/ Nash says it is interesting that Leach-Jones, in an interview with artist James Gleeson in the late 1970s, described works in his Noumenon series as a contradiction. “Noumenon is an antonym of phenomenon,” Nash says, “and Leach-Jones was of the view that ‘as soon as it becomes a painting, it becomes a phenomenon’. And I suppose that was my immediate reaction to this piece, a visual phenomenon. Your eye is drawn into the shapes that make up the squared circle, and while your mind races to form its own definition of these shapes as symbols, letters, beings, the way the colour almost pulsates doesn’t allow the eye to settle for them to become fully realised.”Materials: synthetic polymer paint on canvasDimensions: 91.3 x 92.0 cm

CREDIT: Bronwyn Watson