Prone male figure.  1987
Crayon on paper.  27 x 20 cm

 

Verical abstract.  Undated
Oil on linen.  27 x 20 cm

 

Abstract.  1991
Watercolour on paper

GEORGE CLAESSEN

1909 - 2000

   Retrospective Exhibition

George Claessen was born on 5 May 1909, and spent the first thirty eight years of his life in Ceylon.  He belonged to a family which had strong leanings towards the visual arts.  After leaving school, his early working life was spent in various parts of the island where he developed his great love of nature and its living forms, as well as his acute powers of observation.  He began to paint only in his 29 year on joining the Port Commission in Colombo as a draughtsman.  His primary and early skills were founded on the basic strengths of drawing, but he soon exhibited his versatility as a painter in many media.  He became a founder artist member of the '43 Group, and exhibited continuously with it here and abroad.  "Mother and Child" (1943) was hung in the pioneer show in November 1943.  At the end of 1946 he had the distinction of having a small selection of his best drawings published in book form, aided and abetted by his two close friends - Arthur Van Langenberg and Ian Goonetileke.  In a perceptive review Justin Pieris Daraniyagala called him "surely our most outstanding draughtsman", and went on to say... "He sees broadly with and innate profundity, which characterises all his work; and above all is possessed of the ability to transmit effectively the reactions of an extremely sensitive mind to the objects and scenes of everyday life.  His humility before the model is an outstanding characteristic of his work".  Aubrey Collette said at the same time; "George Claessen's pictures may not be overwhelming in their impact, but like all great art they carry a slow a message in their arid simplicity".

In the middle of 1947 he migrated to Australia, having by then developed an almost obsessive dedication to the pursuit of an artist's life.  He had his first one-man exhibition at the Velasquez Gallery, Melbourne in 1948, but in 1949 he moved to England, where he has since established himself in London scene.  He has had several one-man shows, and remains actively devoted to his art in his 82 year.  He exhibited at the Venice and Sao Paulo Biennales in 1956 and 1959.  His work is to be found mainly in private collections in Sri Lanka and England.  Claessen's work, especially as a draughtsman, is dominated by a subtle intimacy and a suggestive use of line to capture form and explore movement.  His painting is marked by an unusual sensibility, and his oils, watercolours, pastels, and gouaches reveal grace, innocence, and a calm and deliberate contemplativeness.  He first began to experiment with pure abstraction in Australia, and he found this form of expression developing strongly in London into styles of a misty luminosity.  Both drawings and paintings reveal and inner light and strength of a man at peace with himself, and supremely confessional in their expression of an uncompromising and deep religious conviction.

He has published two books of poems as well, mainly traditional, though intriguing as the voice of a searching mystic who reacts primarily in the language of a different medium.  Poems of a Painter was published by the Mitre Press in 1967, and, Poems about Nothing by Arthur Stockwell in 1981.  His brother Ralph, who died in 1988, had a few sculptures in the first '43 Group exhibition, and in the following ones up to 1948.

H. A. I. G.