Born Linwood Robert Steven
South on 1 February 1923 at Bruce Rock, Western Australia, the son of Robert
South a wheat farmer and Dorothy née Dolton; his parents separated
when Perceval was eighteen months old and until 1934 he lived with his
father (“a tireless, hard worker and impressive farmer...(but) feared for
his impulsive temper and occasional violent outbursts”) until his mother's
marriage to William de Burgh Perceval. He then changed his name by deed
poll. He won a bursary at Trinity Grammar where he gained an appreciation
of drawing but was largely untrained; at the age of fifteen he suffered from
a bout of poliomyelitits (polio) that left him permanently lame in his lower
right leg. In December 1941 Perceval voluntarily enlisted in the army and
joined the Cartographic Company where he met
Arthur Boyd (q.v.) but was discharged after eight months and moved
into the Boyd family home at Open Country - Murrumbeena (“the guest
who came to stay”); he fell in love with Boyd's younger sister Mary whom he
married in November 1944 and with others helped to establish “Arthur Merric
Boyd (AMB) Pottery” (500 Neerim Road, Murrumbeena) having temporarily
abandoned painting from 1950 until 1954. The last surviving member of the
avant-garde group of artists known as the “Angry Penguins” that profoundly
redefined the Australian art scene in the 1940s, Perceval was described as
“the humanist and poet” of the group. His paintings were “energetic and
tactile” in technique “characterised by an exuberant use of colour and
vigorous application of paint” which often took an intimate and personal
view of the subject, his most notable works being from the acclaimed “Williamstown”
series painted during the 1950s and 60s notably “Tugboat in a Boat”
(1956), “Buoys in the Sunshower” (1956), “Sulphur Smoke”
(1959) and “The Dredge and the Polly Woodside” (1967); just
prior to his death “Scudding Swans” (1959) sold for $552,500 - a
record for a living Australian painter. But ultimately, as the 'junior'
Penguin, Perceval’s standing in Australian art is somewhat overshadowed by
Tucker (q.v.) and Nolan. By the mid-1970s he was a broken man. In
financial disarray and suffering from schizophrenia and alcoholism, in 1977
he admitted himself into the psychiatric hospital Larundel where he spent
the next nine years. In 1990 Perceval's contribution to the history and
development of Australian art was acknowledged with being awarded the
Officer of the Order of Australia. He died on 15 October 2000 survived by
his four children; he once remarked - “Children are the real world. I have
fought adulthood all my life”.
(above) John Perceval
and Mary Boyd (c 1944)
(Copyright Estate of Albert Tucker.
Diggins Fine Art. By permission of the
Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23607972)
Allen, T., “John Perceval” (1992).
McCulloch, A., “The Encyclopedia of
Australian Art” (1994).
Burke, J., “Australian Gothic. A life of
Albert Tucker” (2002).
The Age 17 October 2000.
The Australian 17 October 2000.
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