OIL ON BOARD, 2000, 121×90 Not Available.
Communing with the Muse –
JUDIT SHEAD, the late wife of Garry Shead, 1949-2007, JUDIT SHEAD was a fine sculptor and artist. She was trained in the great European tradition and has works on public display in Australia, her adopted country. She is probably best known, however, as the wife and muse of artist Garry Shead. Most of the women in Shead’s paintings are in one way or another, Judit. “Often I start out painting a woman with a complete different face and bigger-bosomed body, but it always ends up looking like Judit,” he said in 2001. When one artist marries another, all sorts of sensitivities arise. Often one is more dominant than the other. Judit was a good artist and a determined woman, but she threw most of her energy behind Garry. While she sometimes felt she was not fulfilling herself as a sculptor, she understood the necessity of the muse.
Sasha Grishin quotes Garry on Judit in his book, Garry Shead and the Erotic Muse, as “the woman who is my twin, of the same kind”. Her husband said at her funeral service: “I needed two lifetimes with her.” He said afterwards: “I was really struggling when I met her, but anyone with her behind him would have been successful.”
She was born Englert Judit in Budapest, Hungary, to Englert Pal, an engineer and member of the Communist Party, and his wife, Komaromi flona, a bureaucrat. She studied at the College of the Arts, Budapest, and the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts, gaining a diploma of teaching art in 1972. She participated in exhibitions in Hungary, Germany and elsewhere in Europe. Around this time Garry Shead was part of a group of emerging artists, including Brett Whiteley, Martin Sharp, Tim Storrier and Peter Kingston. With his art at a stalemate, he secured a residency in 1981 at Owen Tooth Cottage, Vence, France, where D. H. Lawrence had died. Madame Karolyi, an elderly Hungarian aristocrat, invited him to Budapest, where he stayed with Judit, who had the heritage of academic training that Shead valued. “I threw myself into learning with her guidance,” he said.
They came to Australia in 1983. Janet Hawley wrote in Good Weekend that when Shead took Judit to meet Whiteley, Whiteley’s penetrating gaze travelled over her face and body, and he remarked: “You’ll be able to paint her for the rest of your life.” Judit was not impressed, thinking: “If this is a typical Australian male, then this country is 50 years behind Europe in the emancipation of women.” Photographer Greg Weight says that Shead’s friends had not then realised that Judit would be “the muse central to the development of the rise of arguably Australia’s greatest living lyrical painter”.
They stayed with Sharp for a period and Judit gave art classes in Kings Cross. After visiting the artist Bruce Petty in Maiaribar, Judit decided they should live in nearby Bundeena. Around 1991, in a moment of artistic despair, Garry said to his muse: “I’ve had it, Judit. I’ve come to the decision that I’m not meant to be an artist.” Wait says Judit looked at him through 500 years of European art history and replied: “Garree, go back into zat stoodio and doon’t coom back until you ave dun somz-ing vorthvile.”
The D.H. Lawrence paintings followed. Shead had long been fascinated with the English writer and felt a parallel between the Lawrences, with German-born Frieda, and the Sheads, with Hungarian-born Judit. Judit’s face was to appear in hundreds of Shead’s works, in various guises from Frieda to the monarchy, to naked dancers, to a solitary European woman in the Australian bush, and artist’s model. Garry Shead said that Judit turned his career around: “I learned more from her about how to put a picture together and the finer points of composition than I ever did at art school [or through] years of trying to work out my own ideas.” She was a perfectionist with a good critical eye. They sometimes fought over his work, over the colours, the composition or the drawing.
She said in 2001: “I’m a challenger, an agent provocateur. In Europe we were trained to ask lots of questions in studios – “Why on earth are you doing that?’, ‘Explain this’ – and I just did that with Garry. Instead of saying, ‘Oh, I love that picture, darling’, I’ll always say the truth. Then we would argue over our opinions, and if I’ve overstepped the line again and said something too blunt, I risk getting thrown out of the studio.” Her sculptures in bronze, stone, steel and wood stand in Australia, Hungary Bulgaria, Germany and in private collections around the world. They include Aspiration, a large stainless-steel work at Cronulla, a Walter Burley Griffin bust at Castlecrag, a sculpture of Doc Evatt, the former Labor Party leader, and public works at Ultimo and Mosman.
Judit Shead also threw herself into community work around Bundeena and helped launch Village Noise, an independent local newspaper. She died from pancreatic cancer. She leaves Garry, their daughter Lilla, his daughter Gria from a previous marriage, Gria’s partner Luke Sciberras, and Judit’s sister, Nagy Kati.
Copyright © GARRY SHEAD