This exhibition of photographs of Tony Fomison by Shirley Grace, shown alongside Fomison’s own paintings, prints and ceramics offers a unique insight into one of this country’s most recognised post-war painters.
Fomison (1939-1990), like his paintings, is said to have had an intensity and presence that is somewhat difficult to define. Reflected in his works in a lifetime spent of observation and documentation of his immediate environments, here, Grace’s photographs offer a kind of counter observation of the artist himself.
Fomison’s canvases are often characterised as dark, brooding or foreboding and are thought to offer a personal representation of the human condition and its inherent fragility. Subject to depression himself, images of clowns, jesters, and religious subjects and symbols act as further metaphors for human frailty. His subjects often reflect his interest in issues of multiculturalism and the multicultural environment in which he chose to live. Traditional narratives and mythology were also frequently combined with the contemporary human figure. There is a strong emphasis on colour and shading, lending many works an almost apocalyptic sense.
Shirley Grace’s contribution to this exhibition provides a unique insight into Fomison’s character and studio life. Grace (1949 - 2000) was a noted film actor (Goodbye Pork Pie, Pallet on the Floor, Gordon Bennett) painter and photographer. Her relationship with Tony Fomison is documented in a series of photographs taken at his home in the Auckland suburb of Grey Lynn in 1989. Accompanying entries from her dairy recall a personal experience of the often elusive artist. She wrote:
Tony was welcoming although obviously physically frail, has an inner strength and presence that is impossible not to be affected by. His eyes are intense he has the need/desire to communicate fully about all sorts of things. He spoke frequently of honesty and ethics and how his ‘art scene’ rejected him. I now fumble for the words to describe him – his own were so eloquent and I came away wishing I had had a tape recorder – because when I started to photograph, I was concentrating on the images and was aware, as a result, of missing quite a bit of what he said. (undated journal entry, circa November 1989)