Jan Senbergs

To Take the Long Way Home

On the eve of his retrospective at the National Gallery of Victoria, VAULT stops by the studio of the legendary Australian artist Jan Senbergs to reflect on the journeys — metaphorical and otherwise — that have underpinned his otherworldly prints, drawings and paintings.

By Peter Hill

The day I meet Jan Senbergs in his North Melbourne studio he is agonising over what works to leave out of his major retrospective, only a few weeks away, at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne’s Federation Square.

“It’s going to be such a big exhibition,” he tells me, as we sit at one of his many worktables in the industrial warehouse space that could easily — to my intense envy — house a dozen artists who are at the earlier stages of their careers. “But I still won’t be able to fit everything in.”

Even alongside his parallel show of drawings at Niagara Galleries, a lifetime’s work is still a lifetime’s work, especially if you are 76 years old and have been as prolific as Senbergs. Between them, Senbergs and Taylor have selected around 120 paintings that will be shown across several galleries.

“My curator at the NGV, Elena Taylor, is amazing,” he says. “She’s even built models of the different galleries, and scale replicas of each work and where it will hang. But when I look at it, all I think about are the works that won’t be going in.”

One of the great pleasures in life is talking to painters in their studios and Senbergs does not disappoint. Our conversation ranges from El Greco to Philip Guston to his old mates from the school of life, Fred Williams, George Baldessin, Robert Jacks, Rick Amor, Gareth Sansom and Ian Burn. At one point, we discover we have both been to Tahiti, each... Subscribe to read this article in full

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