At the age of nineteen, he was admitted to the National Art School in Sydney where he discovered an interest in film-making and began producing his first 8 mm experimental piece. In the same year, he became one of the youngest Archibald exhibitors when his portrait of his sister, Lynne, was hung in the prestigious art competition.
Whilst painting at the art school, Shead also drew cartoons for several newspapers and magazines including The Bulletin, offering him an “in” to many journalism and art circles. During this time, he was invited to publish one of his articles criticising the National Art School for its, in his opinion, out-dated and insufficient facilities and teaching styles. Consequently, he was not invited back for his third year of study though he continued to paint, his style evolving all the time.
In 1987, Shead moved to Bundeena, New South Wales, and began his most famous series of paintings, the D.H. Lawrence series, inspired by the writer’s novel Kangaroo of which he had been a fan for decades. The landscape of Bundeena struck Shead as being very similar to the town of Thirroul where the novel was written and the works he created as a part of the collection depict the universe of the story as a series of rich, symbolic visions of coastal Australia.
In the mid-1990s, Shead began his Royal Suite series that concentrated on Queen Elizabeth’s tour of Australia in 1954. Mostly satirical in nature, the paintings mock what Shead considered to be Australia’s 19th Century desire to be ruled by a “goddess”, featuring the Queen standing nude on a pedestal or as a mythical being seated on a throne. The pieces also showcase Shead’s talent as a filmmaker featuring wide, panoramic views of Sydney Harbour and a cast of characters from the Australian bushland, welcoming the young ruler to their domain with quiet awe. Looking past the drama, the Royal Suite series is a thoughtful depiction of the relationships that drive the scenes portrayed - the prim, controlled royal couple playing out their public duties are contrasted with a pair of lovers in the shadows, frolicking with freedom and abandon in a comment by Shead on the stifling of inner impulses by social conventions.
Shead won the Archibald Prize in 1993 with his portrait of Tom Thompson and his works are represented in all state galleries nationwide as well as numerous corporate and private collections.
© 2018 Cooks Hill Galleries.