“Incredible things happened for him when we were overseas and his work was shown in Rome, Paris, New York and London,” Kay said.
“It was an extraordinary period of creativity and growth.”
Feeling ‘isolated and alone’ upon returning to Sydney in 1981, the Lanceleys bought a warehouse in Surry Hills, turned it into a studio and family home, and cocooned themselves in the items they had collected from the ‘foreign.
Carpets from Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, works by French artists Fernand Léger, Sonia Delaunay and Albert Gleizes, Maori ax heads and Indian stone reliefs, this is just a tiny part of their collection.
Kay was the mainstay of the family, returning home from her job in the ABC’s publicity department to find Wagner thriving out of Lanceley’s studio while the four children went wild elsewhere in the house.
When Lanceley died of illness in 2015, Kay auctioned nearly 400 objects and artworks to reduce his workforce.
“I sold half my life,” she says.
Today she lives in a smaller house, but many of the items she and Lanceley have collected have come with her. Photographs show the young couple in Europe, or in Sydney with Paul Keating, when the then Prime Minister awarded Lanceley an Australian Artist Creation Grant. Lanceley never had to teach again.
Precious snapshots are clustered on the walls. There’s Lanceley with Barry Humphries and James Fairfax. There’s Kay wearing a Biba dress in London. There’s the couple’s late son, Tristan, holding a sand boa in Spain.
Behind Kay’s couch hangs A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1985, a powerful painting that was selected for the retrospective. It was acquired by writer Peter Carey when he won the Booker Prize, but Kay later bought it back.
Lanceley’s wooden paint table, still slathered in color, is now in the kitchen with a bowl of fruit on top. His workshop stool is there too.
“I actually kept furniture from the studio because I liked it, and it made me feel like it was there all the time,” Kay says.
Colin Lanceley: Earthly Delights will be “a timely reminder for those familiar with the artist’s genius and a comprehensive introduction for those who are not,” said NAS director Steven Alderton.
For Kay, the exhibition is a moment to celebrate a long life together. But it doesn’t sugarcoat the reality of the couple’s “unwritten contract” that the studio would always come first.
“I loved him so much. But there were times when I wanted to kill him, because he was incredibly difficult,” she laughs.
Objects on display in the exhibition will include Lanceley’s collages, sculptures and assemblages, as well as the vibrant paintings to which he often fixed carved wooden objects.
“In the end, he took a lot of pleasure in tinkering. Not just sticking to things that have already been done. In fact, he shaped them and transformed them into other objects,” explains Kay.
Kay wants to emphasize Lanceley’s intellectual approach to his art, and how much he absorbed the work of artists such as Picasso and Braque during those formative years in Europe.
Her love of color will be evident in Earthly Delights.
“Colin was a colorist first and foremost,” Kay says.
“He said, ‘When I’m working and the colors start to jump off the canvas, that’s the best feeling I can have. “”
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