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LEWIS MORLEY RETROSPECTIVE at the Art Galley of NSW, 4 July 2006

Launched by Richard Neville - www.richardneville.com.au

For someone accustomed to making hysterical, Castro length speeches on the state of the world and the war criminals who run it …. tonight is a refreshing change. I’ve been asked to contextualise Lewis Morley’s 50 year body work.

And to do it in 5 minutes.

Which allows one minute for each decade.

Thanks a lot Edmund Capon. I suppose if it was a Cy Twombly opening, we’d have all night.

One of the most remarkable things about Lewis Morely, apart from his knack of timing and a thrilling spontaneity, is his lack of an ego. It beats me how he got anywhere at all in this town …. with such a handicap.

Another trait that distinguishes Lewis from other artists, is that his life has been dogged by goodluck.

If an obstacle should appear – a rare event - he hardly seems to notice it.

In the 1940’s he was living in Hong Kong with his Chinese mother and British father, (who served as the island’s chief pharmacist). As a 16 year old, Lewis was put in a prison camp by the Japanese occupiers, which immediately conjurs images of The Bridge over the River Kwai. But Morley’s recollections of his interned childhood read like a Boys Own Adventure – he tended the vegey gardens, so he got well fed, he got fit, he even got laid ….

However, there was ONE incident that truly shook him, and that was before the war, when he visited his maternal grandmother, an old school, non peasant Chinese, with bound feet. According to his memoir, the young Morley secretly watched his Granny slipping off her tiny dolls shoes, and unwinding the bandages from her mutilated feet, which he describes as …. “Two terrifying lumps of compressed flesh and bones”. He refused to visit again, unless Granny promised not to remove her shoes.

Despite his ancestry, Lewis says he has always felt more English than Chinese although in later life he came to realise that many of his attitudes were intrinsically oriental.

After the war, he returned to England and was obliged to join a branch of national service. He chose the Royal Airforce on the grounds its grey uniform suited him best. He studied commercial art, flirted with advertising and landed by chance a photo-journalist assignment with London’s most fashionable magazine, The Tattler. And so, by the time the sixties arrived, he was ready for it.

Looking back on his work at the time, Lewis feels he was just clicking the shutters. Technically, he felt he was sloppy, yet his casual, improvised approach, perfectly suited the dawn of a new era.

As he puts it: “Plum assignments just kept falling into my lap”. This occasionally involved subjects who had first fallen into other people’s laps.

(Okay, don’t mention the call girl.)

Lewis often describes himself as a fringe dweller, a fringe dweller all his life. But for a short time, he did venture beyond the fringe …. the title of the 1961 show starring Allan Bennet, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, etc, the show Morley believes “shattered the face of theatrical London forever”, and much else besides.

Loitering in the wings was Lewis, “accidentally” becoming the official photographer for this new breed of satirists, and then the models, playwrights, pop stars and assorted trouble makers, there when Barry Humphries introduced Soho to Edna Everage, there when Private Rye magazine needed a cover shot, there for Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, Tom Jones, the Beatles, Salvador Dali, there for Jonathan Cleese, Connie Booth, Michael Cain, Clint Eastwood … and as the years rolled, ready to catch Hunter S Thompson’s druggy charisma, Margaret Olley’s domestic chaos and Judi Dench’s lacy underwear … there too clicking away in Paris, in Kashmir, in Hobart and… capturing Hampstead Heath like you’ve never seen it before … there at the Aldermasten anti nuclear marches, at the ani Vietnam war demos, at the Bowery, at the Bullfights, at the flea markets - Lewis - an eternal ethereal Forest Gump, wandering accidentally onto the scene, clicking without fanfare, without self promotion, without malice, without an agenda …. Up close in person, but psychologically on the fringe.

Now to be honoured with a show of his own, launched on Independence Day night, a man who nourished his artistic independence for fifty years, helping to keep our cultural memory alive, to remind us what wonderful things can happen when new generations seize the moment to poke fun at authority and set off new waves of wit, creativity, colour and movement, to expand the boundaries of the national imagination, instead of reducing it to the bottom line, to the footy shows, to flagwaving .

The strange thing is - Lewis Morley is at heart a conservative . He doesn’t like iconoclasm for the sake of it and he prefers to build on tradition than to wreck it. He photographed the star of London’s rock musical, Hair, but he never felt any desire to see the show. When he went on the riotous anti the war demos, it was to do his job, and he felt sympathy for the outnumbered police.

This makes me like his work even more. It remains spontaneous, it is beyond politics. Lewis brings to his art the gifts of a fringe dweller who crosses all boundaries … of culture, of race, of opinion, an artist with an eye for all seasons and a feel for all points of view. 50 years of spirited independence – now at last on view for all of you to see. Welcome to the show.


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