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margo lewers : a house full of paintings – a major retrospective

Artist Margo Lewers

This highly detailed, comprehensively researched book is linked in to the A HOUSE FULL OF PAINTINGS  exhibition at the Penrith Regional Gallery, home of the Lewers Bequest, that surveys the voluminous work of Margo Lewers. It is divided into five sections with an Introduction and a Forward, various appendixes and an index. It is lavishly illustrated and there are also Acknowledgements.

The  publication documents the life and work of Margo Lewers (1908-1978) and the many facets of her oeuvre, which blended collage, process and colour in the various media she used in her sphere as a major Postwar Abstract Expressionist.

Lewers is also recognised as introducing the Bauhaus design approach to Australian art in the 1930’s and 40’s. The development of her former home, the Lewers Bequest, and how it has become the Penrith Regional Gallery, is chronicled. The Gallery site includes Lewers House, Anchers House, a purpose-built gallery, a cafe and the landscaped gardens as designed by Lewers.

For Lewers, abstract art was how she attempted to make the incorporeal manifest, making it an impassioned reaction for inspiration for her work.  We learn that Lewers worked in many media, not only painting but mosaics, plexiglass, sculpture, textiles, pottery, interior design and landscape gardens, as examples. At the time her use of plexiglass was a startling innovation.

Lewers was born in Mosman, Sydney in 1908. We learn how her parents encouraged her and we learn a little about her brother Carl. Her father was also an artist but passed away when she was very young.

Lewers met her future husband Gerald in the 1920’s attending Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo’s evening art classes. Margo and Gerald married in 1933 and then travelled to Europe in the mid 1930s.Their daughter Darani ( a jeweller) was born on 1936 and Tanya ( a teacher and printmaker ) in 1941.

While in London, Lewers wrote articles for Australian magazines and studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts with the engraver and illustrator John Farleigh. Back in Sydney, between the war years 1940 – 1945, she undertook evening classes with the prestigious Hungarian painter, Desiderius Orban. Lewers was an active member of the Sydney branch of the Contemporary Art Society of Australia.

While having no formal art qualifications when she graduated from school, in 1935 Lewers  began a flourishing business decorating hand-made ceramics, printing textiles, and then producing furniture through her shop Notanda Gallery, in Rowe Street, Sydney. Confusion can be caused as Carl took over the name Notunda for his gallery once Lewers business closed.

Lewers exhibited considerably both internationally and here in Australia , winning many awards and prizes. She also received major public commissions. In 1962 when her husband Gerald was killed in a horse riding accident Lewers fulfilled two of his commissions, the copper sculpture for the Reserve Bank in Canberra and the War Memorial Fountain at Gosford. Other commissions include the huge mosaic at the Rex Hotel in Canberra, Expansion and the Aubusson tapestry for the Reserve Bank of Australia’s boardroom accomplished in 1968, not forgetting a mosaic for the lobby of the School of Engineering at the University of Western Australia. The strain on Lewers family was at times considerable.

By the 1960s Lewers’ work became even more malleable and more nonrepresentational.  At home, the bathroom was covered in prints, Lewers tiling it herself in muted tones of cream and grey in Mondrian like angular mosaics.The interior design, as developed by Lewers. encompassed everything inside and outside including curtain drapes, kitchen storage and the magnificent garden – a total environment also encompassing sounds and perfumes, and birds and flowers in the garden.

Margo Lewers was the subject of Judy Cassab’s 1967 Archibald Prize winning portrait.

A HOUSE FULL OF PAINTINGS is a captivating exhibition and book demonstrating the enterprise and magnitude of Lewers’ work in a major retrospective. Her legacy continues.





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