Alun Leach-Jones was the eldest child of a Welsh elementary school teacher father and a Scottish mother. His parents had met in Liverpool, but shortly after Alun’s birth the family returned to his father’s home in rural North Wales where he became the local schoolmaster, and his son’s first teacher. Alun did not speak English until he was ten. In 1947 an uncle, who was recovering from the War, showed him how to paint watercolours. When the family returned to Liverpool, Alun joined his uncles’ Post Office club, and was commissioned to paint murals, his first professional experience. From the age of 14 he worked at the Solicitor’s Law Society, making illuminated manuscripts for presentation. A workmate, Ronald McKenzie, introduced him to art, and they travelled to Paris where he saw Gauguin, and to the Prado in Madrid. Art became increasingly important and he enrolled in evening classes at Liverpool College of Art.
In 1959 Leach-Jones travelled to London to see New American Painting at the Tate, an exhibition that introduced him to Abstract Expressionism, and changed the way he thought about colour and form.
The following year he travelled to Adelaide as an assisted immigrant, where he worked at various jobs including as a library assistant, before enrolling in night classes at the South Australian School of Art where he said his “real professional life started”. It was also where he met his wife, fellow artist Nola Jones. Kym Bonython noticed Leach-Jones’ constant visits to his gallery, and encouraged the budding artist by giving him a place to live in the gallery in return for assistance with installing exhibitions and caretaking duties. Leach-Jones’ interest in art books at the Mary Martin bookshop piqued the attention of Max Harris, who commissioned him to illustrate a book, and introduced him to Sidney Nolan which gave him a sense that art could be a career.
The South Australian School of Art also led him to an interest in the possibilities of printmaking, led by Udo Sellbach, Karin Schepers and Geoffrey Brown.
In 1964 Leach-Jones and his wife Nola travelled to England where she studied at the Chelsea School of Art, while he became involved in the Contemporary Art Society. He shared a studio with the English abstract painter Brian Plummer. Consequently he met other artists including Patrick Heron and Norbert Linton. London finessed his screen-printing technique and he started to make images of intricate abstract beauty, with the generic title “Noumenon”, which he described as “the idea of perceiving a purely intellectual entity”.
He continued working in this direction on his return to Australia, this time to Melbourne, in 1964. The same year he held his first successful solo exhibition at Australian Galleries, which was soon followed by exhibitions in other cities. His meditative intricate abstract works led to him exhibiting in The Field in 1968 and being regarded as one of Australia’s leading abstract artists. In 1969 he represented Australia at the Bienale del Sao Paulo, in Brazil.
The same year he was appointed as a teacher at the Prahran College of Advanced Education, also taught at the National Gallery of Victoria School. This was followed by an appointment at the Victorian College of the Arts in 1972 and the City Art Institute (later known as the College of Fine Arts, UNSW) in 1978. His significance as a printmaker was first recognised in 1967 when he was made a Print Patron of the Print Council of Australia, and his achievement in a British context was recognised in 1990 when he was made an Honorary Life Fellow of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers, UK.
The significance of Alun Leach-Jones as a printmaker as well as a painter was early recognised by the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Australia Council which, in 1974, chose him to exhibit at the Lalit Kala Academy in New Delhi. This was followed by other exhibitions and residencies in Malaysia, Singapore and New York.
In 1980 Leach-Jones undertook a residency in Berlin, at the Kunstlerhaus Bethanian. His studio was next to the death zone of the Wall, place of concrete, barbed wire and dead animals.From this came a turning point in his art, with the series “The Romance of Death” which was triggered in part by the efforts of those trying to cross the wall. In the 1990s, influenced by what he described as 'Welsh melancholy’ he made a series grouped under the title “The Instruments for a Solitary Navigator”. He later described these as “like a slime trail left by the snail behind him”.
In 1999, encouraged by his friends Lenton Parr and Robert Klippel, he began to make sculpture which was the subject of several of exhibitions in commercial galleries.
Towards the end of his life there was a renewed interest in the mid-century Abstract artists and the way the daring young men who painted in precise colours had helped shape modern Australian art.


Joanna Mendelssohn
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