A self-taught painter, Elwyn Lynn was also editor of the Contemporary Art Society Broadsheet between 1955 and 1970. At the time, it was an important platform for the review and discussion of contemporary art.
He was an art critic for The Bulletin and The Australian newspaper and was renowned for his advocacy of abstract art, often at times when it was not widely supported. Until the late 1960s he was a schoolteacher and between 1969 and 1983 his role was Curator of the Power Gallery of Contemporary Art at the University of Sydney. Lynn’s public activities did not, however, impinge on his passionate pursuit of painting.
Lynn grew up in the small Riverina town of Junee, where he observed harsh summers and ploughed paddocks. His painting style is distinguished by an engagement with matter. His chosen use of materials – pigment, PVA glue, sand and found objects and collage – comprised a visual conversation between the landscape and the physicality of the image. Many of his works convey a shifting register in terms of their points of view. At times the landscape is articulated in two dimensions frontal to the picture plane. At other times, it is seen from above. On a trip to Europe in 1958 he observed the work of Jean Dubuffet, Antoni Tapies and Alberto Burri. Each of these artists created a physical texture on the canvas, experimenting with different materials in a manner that could be described as emblematic abstract, as in the case of Tapies, and spontaneously innocent, as in the work of Dubuffet.
Lynn once commented that ‘the aesthetic appeal of Cretan cursive script, of early Sumerian holes and scratches, of decaying Egyptian papyrus and pre-Hellenic markings certainly does not depend on the verbal meaning; there is a fascination in these cuts and graffiti for some modern painters to whom the High Renaissance was simply amusing. Dubuffet and Tapies frequently see the world as though through a long archaeological tunnel; the former will scratch and scribble with the immediacy of a child’s drawing’. The dominant form in the painting Crete (1967) is the Greek symbol omega. It is the last letter of the Greek alphabet, and often refers metaphorically to the end. The pock-marked and pierced surface, the ash greys and golden browns, resonate with the sense of a landscape from above – a ring of fire around burnt paddocks. Crete invokes not only the burnished surfaces of an ancient culture but also the skin of the landscape itself.
- Elwyn Lynn, ‘Calligraphy’, The Broadsheet of the Contemporary Art Society of Australia (NSW Branch), 06/1959.