Shead’s painting up for auction The Daily Telegraph, June 13, 2007 12:00am

BEFORE Garry Shead’s wife Judit died from pancreatic cancer in Sydney last month, the celebrated Australian painter asked her permission to sell a painting which had once been his special gift to her.

Judit gave her blessing, and the painting will be auctioned tonight by Deutscher-Menzies in Kensington.

If it is a wrench for Shead to sell the painting, it is nothing like the pain of losing his wife and muse on May 8, at the age of only 57.

Shead became Judit’s fulltime carer when she was diagnosed with cancer nine months before her death.

The normally prolific artist abandoned his studio in Bundeena, in the home where they lived, and devoted him self completely to her.

There were times when the couple was hopeful of beating the inoperable cancer. But chemotherapy “nearly killed her”, Shead said, and they turned to alternative therapies.

“We believed she could beat it, and we tried every kind of alternative thing,” he said.

“I was getting a bit anxious – a lot of money was going out.

“I said ‘would it be alright?’ (to sell the painting), and she said ‘yes’. It’s had her blessing.”

The picture, Envoy III (D.H. Lawrence Series), 1994, depicts a serene Judit in a dream-like tableau inspired by D.H. Lawrence’s 1923 novel, Kangaroo. The painting is estimated to fetch between $110,000 and $140,000.

Shead’s series on Kangaroo, which he made just after winning the 1993 Archibald Prize, put him on the map as one of Australia’s best and most imaginative painters.

Judit figured prominently in the series, and in hundreds of Shead’s other artworks.

Judit was born in Hungary, and was a sculptor. She worked alongside Garry in Bundeena and completed a number of public sculpture commissions as well as exhibiting her work in galleries.

“She talked about having an exhibition this year; she was trying to be positive. And it didn’t happen,” Shead said.

But now it will. On November 29, when Judit would have turned 58, a joint exhibition of the couple’s work will open at Sydney’s Australian Galleries.

“I’m getting some of her works cast in bronze (for the exhibition),” Shead said.

There is a seated woman which Shead is having cast in a small edition. He plans to have one of the figures installed on a rock near the Bundeena wharf, as a tribute.

There will be other small bronzes, and a life size sculpture of Gria Shead – Garry’s artist daughter from his first marriage.

Shead, who is back in the studio, will exhibit paintings. And they are still inspired by Judit.

“I have got lots of feelings, and they want to come out now,” Shead said.

Garry and Judit’s daughter is Lilla, 18. She has moved back to Bundeena to be with her father.

“She’s realised we both need each other a bit,” Shead said in his understated way.