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David Aspden

One of Australia's most significant abstractionists

David Aspden

David Aspden, c1973-74. Photo: Robert Walker, licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

I think most painters … genuine painters or obsessives, were never really satisfied with anything they did. This is why it’s possible … if they can last long enough, you know, last out ’til they’re 75 – they’re still tottering around, still trying to put paint on canvas. Most other people have given up. David Aspden

More than 70 works, spanning four decades, from the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales are the subject of a major exhibition, David Aspden: the colour of music and place opening on 28 July. 'This is the most comprehensive exhibition of this artist’s work to date’, states curator Anne Ryan.

Aspden was from a generation of young Australian painters who came to prominence in the 1960s. Outward-looking and adventurous, they embraced the spirit of the age in which local artists and collectors increasingly valued experimentation and individual expression and looked to international centres, particularly the United States, for inspiration and acceptance. The decade concluded with the groundbreaking National Gallery of Victoria exhibition The field in 1968, which sought to confidently assert that the work of this generation should be seen as the definitive voice of its age. Aspden had two works in this show: Fifth force 1968 and Field 1, the painting that lent the exhibition its name.

David Aspden was born in England in 1935 and came to Australia as a teenager with his family in 1949. They settled in Wollongong, and it was here that he first determined to become an artist, immersing himself in the local art scene. However, the limitations of this small city soon became apparent and Aspden moved to Sydney in 1964 – by then a vibrant centre for contemporary painting. Over the subsequent four decades he developed a distinct voice to become a major Australian abstractionist.

Aspden has been described as a composer of paintings, a fitting analogy for a man who surrounded himself with music – mostly jazz and classical – in his daily life. For Aspden painting was an act of immersion. He had an intuitive facility for bringing together the disparate elements of form and colour – from the ‘hard-edge’ paintings that established his reputation in the 1960s through to the more nuanced colour abstracts of the 1970s to 2000s in which his artistic vision found its purest expression.

Aspden was sustained by three major inspirations – colour, landscape and music.

As early as 1965 there was general public appreciation for Aspden’s flair for colour. For Aspden, colour, music and landscape were intertwined; they were the muses that drove him and shaped his sensibility.

Aspden’s earliest paintings were landscapes but coastal subjects were of recurring interest to him as well. He lived by the water at various times in his life, most intimately when he moved to a warehouse in Balmain on the edge of Sydney Harbour in 1978.

Aspden conceived and created paintings as exercises in form, colour and materials, translating into paint a germinating idea or sensation. He responded to colour in an emotional way and commented in 1965 that 'the important things are the relationships between things, not the things themselves’.

David Aspden: the colour of music and place is dominated by Aspden’s vibrant acrylic paintings on paper and also includes a selection of key paintings. It is a celebration of an extraordinary collection of work which resulted in large part from the generous gift of works by Aspden’s widow Karen, following the artist’s death in 2005.


A beautifully designed book including an essay and full chronology on Aspden’s life and work and 86 colour illustrations has been published in conjunction with the exhibition.
96 pages, hardcover
RRP $45 | $40 from the Gallery Shop from 28 July 2011
Also available at selected bookstores

On view
28 Jul – 4 Sep 2011
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney

$None, $None concession

Media contact

Susanne Briggs
Tel 02 9225 1791
Mob 0412 268 320