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Gary Zeck

Zeck is a master of his art. He engages in conversation with clay on a daily basis and creates artwork tempered by years of experimentation and experience. He knows the nuances of time and technique which allow him to manipulate and shape his material into diverse forms and images. He is inventive and he applies his inventiveness with relish. He makes his own clay, his own kilns and his own tools. This gives him an edge where he can further express his ideas with uniqueness. If he wants a particular response or mark, he simply makes a tool to achieve it. This inventiveness is inherent in the diversity of his creations and allied with his knowledge of clay, he is able to explore his ideas and express them with a freedom exceptional in ceramic practice.

Zeck’s early forays into the arts began during his school years. He was tutored at Hale School in the 1950s by Robert Juniper and attended ‘out of school’ classes run by Owen Garde, a devotee of the Max Meldrum School. Garry was not an academic and realised that his interest and talent was more for the arts. Zeck was encouraged to contribute to a number of art exhibitions and competitions whilst a student and won a ‘Highly Commended’ for painting in The Perth Prize for Contemporary Art 1957, with ‘Mother and Child’.

Perth, Western Australia, in the 1950s and 60s was almost a frontier town, extremely isolated and populated by people in the throws of establishing a society. Formal art tuition consisted of courses offered by the Perth Technical College in Painting, Drawing, Sculpture and Art History. Other than that students were expected to attend private classes run by local arts practitioners, many of whom relied on experience and skills gained elsewhere.

To further his art career, Zeck joined the staff of the Art Gallery of Western Australia as a Junior Professional Assistant in 1960. While there he was required to undertake a course run by the Western Australian Newspapers as it was seen as useful knowledge for employees. The course included topics such as printing techniques and bookbinding. In 1961 he enrolled in the fine arts course at the Perth Technical College under the tutelage of Hugh Child. During Zeck’s time at the AGWA he applied himself to drawing animals from skeletons and specimens. Zeck continued to contribute to group exhibitions in Perth and was invited to participate in an exhibition at the Tasmanian Art Gallery along with notable Australian artists such as David Boyd, Guy Grey-Smith and Margaret Olley.

By the middle of 1961 Zeck found he was so influenced by the art he worked around everyday that it was difficult to decipher his own expression. Furthermore he recognised that without experiencing things first hand, he would never develop his own style and responses. His answer to this dilemma was to take off to the Kimberleys and gain that experience.

Zeck worked on a sheep station for two and a half years as a jackeroo then moved to Broome and worked as a clerk for Streeter and Male, merchants and providers to the district. After about a year and a half he left there and worked for a builder for six months before returning to Perth to work in the family wig making business in late 1965.

A return to Perth saw a return to painting, with Zeck working in the wig shop by day and painting at night and weekends. His first solo exhibition was at the Hesling-Archer Gallery in Perth in 1967. In 1968 he moved to Skinner Galleries with a number of solo and group exhibitions until 1975.

In the short time since his return from the Kimberleys, Zeck had started to make his mark on the Perth art scene and was invited to create the painting for the cover of the Australian Society For Education Through Art Bulletin in 1970 and illustrations for poems by Ian Templeman.

Zeck left the family business in 1972 to return to Broome to help establish a caravan park and then travel around Australia with his young family in 1973. He returned to Perth and in 1974 he was awarded an inaugural 12 month Fellowship in Painting as Artist in Residence at the Fremantle Arts Centre. It was here that he was first introduced to clay by fellow Resident Artist, Jean Robins.

To supplement his income, Zeck travelled around the state conducting workshops with Arts Access and sometimes independently organised workshops.

Zeck and his family moved to Serpentine in 1976 and he was able to dedicate time and resources to his pursuit of ceramics. While continuing to paint he largely taught himself to work with clay, hand building, throwing, glazing and firing. Like many of Perth’s early potters with their origins in the craft revival, he made his own clay and tools and built his own kiln.

At this time, patronage of the arts wasn’t perceived as a past time many locals contemplated or indulged in and most Western Australian artists needed a day job to survive. Zeck found it hard to survive as a full time artist despite the time he put into painting along with perfecting the new discipline of ceramics. It is interesting to look back at old catalogues and, considering the attitude to the arts in WA at the time, not surprising to see how minimal the prices for art works were.

Bela Kotai, a fellow potter, was running the art department at Kalgoorlie Technical School (later Kalgoorlie College) and invited Zeck to join the staff to teach painting, drawing and ceramics. He taught at Kalgoorlie tech from 1983 to 1988 with the last three years conducting outreach classes to the isolated communities of Leinster and Laverton as well as Kambalda. While in Kalgoorlie, Zeck met and married his present wife.

During the time at Kalgoorlie College Zeck began a Batchelor of Arts, (Fine Arts) from Western Australian College of Advanced Education (later Edith Cowan University). At the end of 1988 Zeck moved to his current residence in the Swan Valley and in 1989 completed his degree at Edith Cowan University.

To supplement his income while establishing his studio in West Swan, Zeck also taught part time at numerous teaching institutions including Churchlands College of Advanced Education, Balga TAFE, Perth Technical College, Carine TAFE and Edith Cowan University, Joondalup and Mt Lawley.

Zeck has largely been self taught in both painting and ceramics developing his own style and methods along the way. He has also done what many Western Australian artists haven’t achieved, managed to produce an income from his art over successive years with no supplementary income, a great achievement in anyone’s book and a testament to how successful he has been in the pursuit of his artist career.

Zeck, now in his seventies, is still producing regular exhibitions of paintings, drawings and ceramics every 12 to 18 months. He is still creating large ceramics and relishing the idea that his best work is still to come. He is represented in painting, drawing and ceramics by the Art Gallery of Western Australia and ceramics at the National Gallery of Australia. His work is also held in many collections around Australia and internationally but prized most highly by the local community of Western Australia where he has become a house hold name.

visit FOUND at Fremantle Arts Centre

Open 9am–5pm, 7 days


1 Finnerty Street
Western Australia