Cambewarra artists Robert Dickerson dies

LEGEND: Australian artist Robert Dickerson with an exhibition at Rex Irwin Art Dealer gallery. Photo: Steven Siewert
LEGEND: Australian artist Robert Dickerson with an exhibition at Rex Irwin Art Dealer gallery. Photo: Steven Siewert

RENOWNED Cambewarra artist Robert Dickerson, has died at the age of 91.

Mr Dickerson was one of Australia's best known and most collected artists.

"There would not be a private collection in Australia that does not have a Dickerson," said Philip Bacon, a Brisbane gallery director who last year held what has turned out to be the last exhibition the artist attended of his own work.

Mr Dickerson was painting almost until his death of cancer. 

Mr Bacon said that he included some of Mr Dickerson's recent works in the exhibition.

One work from the 70s was sold for $180,000, a record for the artist.

Mr Dickerson is best known for paintings of chiaroscuro figures with long noses and dark eyes often placed in a city scape that vaguely evokes the streets of terrace houses in Sydney's Redfern where Mr Dickerson grew up.

Self-taught, Mr Dickerson, served in the RAAF for four years during World War II and later became a boxer and coal shoveller before becoming a full-time artist in his middle years. 

He shot to prominence when together with Melbourne-based painters such as Charles Blackman, John Percival, Clifton Pugh and Arthur Boyd he issued a manifesto for a group called The Antipodeans that defended figurative art against the then dominant abstract-style. 

As well as his signature figures of children he is well known for paintings of prominent lawyers, ballet dancers and race horses. 

The hardships he went through in the early years of his career were evident in his work; vulnerability, isolation, loneliness as well as humour being hallmarks of his paintings. 

His break as a professional artist came in 1954 when the National Gallery of Victoria purchased his work Man Asleep On The Steps. 

As the title of his book Against The Tide, written by his wife Jennifer, suggests, throughout his career he worked mostly against the tide – against public consensus, without approval or plaudits from the art bureaucracy and without government arts grants. 

He remained active longer than any of his Antipodean peers.

Mr Dickerson mainly sketched and drew at his local property, the 225 acre Turpentine Park at Cambewarra and painted at his Sydney home. 

Recently he had switched to charcoal and pastel rather than oil.

"He was the last man standing," Mr Bacon said. 

Charles Blackman is still alive but no longer painting. 

Speaking to the South Coast Register in 2013 when he was awarded the AM in the Queen’s Birthday Honours he said he loved his Shoalhaven sanctuary at Cambewarra, which had stunning uninterrupted views of the Cambewarra Mountain.

It was also home to another of his passions – horse racing with local trainer Robbie Price having his training precinct on the property.

“I love racing and it has been very good to me. It has allowed me at times to take time between producing artworks,” he said.

Since the early 1960s Mr Dickerson  supported a range of cultural and community organisations donating his artwork as well as providing financial contributions.

“I just like to be able to help people and in particular children’s organisations,” he said.

“I get requests for support all the time and we just try to support whatever we can.”

​Throughout his career Mr Dickerson work has been represented in numerous major national galleries and collections as well as holding more than 120 solo exhibitions nationally and internationally.

Mr Dickerson is survived by his wife Jenny and numerous children and grandchildren from two other marriages.