THE SYDNEY ART SCHOOL – THE JULIAN ASHTON ART SCHOOL
THE SYDNEY ART SCHOOL was founded by Julian Rossi Ashton in 1890
AUSTRALIA’S OLDEST CONTINUOUS FINE ART SCHOOL
Art comes from the heart and Technique is the key!
Mr Henry Cornwallis Gibbons was the Principal of the Julian Ashton Art School from 1942 to 1960. He was once asked if there was a unifying principle underlying the unique achievements of the students; and he replied, “Ashton used to say to me, Teach them to see, Gibbons, to see the beauty of the form, the tone and the colour of the world around them and represent it on paper and canvas. Individuality is to be fostered at all times, in the knowledge that technique is the vehicle of the creative spirit.”
It is the philosophy of this School to encourage fine drawing and sound practice in the craft of painting.
I was fortunate to have Mr Gibbons as my teacher when I entered the school as a raw young student. He was nearing the end of a great teaching career and his students read like a Who’s Who of Australian Art. He was a fine painter, who had worked with George Washington Lambert and he engendered in his student by dint of his wisdom and knowledge a passion for looking and searching. He would explain drawing by drawing. A little diagram or sketch would be placed on the paper alongside your work which graphically answered your questions. We were encouraged to set a standard for ourselves and not to be easily satisfied. Julian Ashton started the famous Sydney Art School with a vision that it still embodies to this day and Henry Gibbons and many others have carried on his legacy. I believe Julian Ashton and Henry Gibbons would be pleased and proud to see the school now, as would my uncle, J Richard Ashton, who ran the school after Mr Gibbons retired. There is no doubt that as a result of the efforts of a very talented body of fine artists, who happen as well to be good teachers, the high reputation of the School continues unabated. We are fortunate as a school community – good teachers attract good students.
The School is important in two special ways.
Firstly it is one of the very few places in the world where a student may gain basic skills and pursue a personal course to the very highest level of technical prowess without being distracted by the need to engage with current theories about what art is. Theory in art generally at this time seems to have a literary basis and is an ongoing debate. New developments in art should be examined and if seen to be valid by the student, and explored, because two things are certain, the good art of the future will be good in a new way and, in any case, though many have tried, as our famous ex student John Olsen said; “You can`t hold art back.” We are on a journey and no one with any certainty can predict the direction of fine art in a society expanding in knowledge, communications and technical versatility at an unparalleled speed. There may be many simultaneous and equally valid directions
However with a degree of confidence we may still presume that, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever” and that our reaffirmation of the ancient skills of drawing and painting, is personal and that to pursue an untrammelled direction gives the greatest pleasure and satisfaction to each of us as individual artists. The acquired basic skills we base our work on becomes our gift to the School and what we pass on. The sure guarantee we have of the philosophy of the School continuing is the continuing transfer of those technical skills. Put simply, our students become our teachers. It was ever thus.
Secondly, The Sydney Art School, which latterly also proudly carries the name of the founder, is Australia’s only embodiment of a continuous unbroken tradition in the Atelier style of teaching art and as such is living history. As a physical entity we hold it in trust. With some confidence we can hope that an institution which has regenerated itself for over 120 years, occupying no permanent home, but enjoying the continuing love and support of successive generations of students will be able to move through its second century with ease and that thereby its long term future is assured. The National Trust regards us as a living national treasure. Preserving that living history is our responsibility. We hold the School precious as those before have known and valued it, for future generations of students.
Julian Ashton was still travelling the the school to teach in his ninetieth year. Mr Gibbons was here into his late eighties I have had the privilege of being the Principal of this school for twenty two years and look forward to welcoming shining faces to the school for many years into the future. I have seen governments rise and fall and fashions in art come and go. The School just carries on regardless and just when I have felt that I have seen it all – another – and then another, brilliant young person arrives at the door of the school and by dint of talent and perseverance gives us a new vision of the world.