Leon Pericles, one of Australia’s most prominent and prolific artists, is the only person to have exhibited with Fine Art@Hale every year since 1993. In the lead up to this year’s exhibition, we caught up with Leon to discuss his continued connection to Hale and the humour that both drives his creativity and serves as his greatest reward.
Leon Pericles at work - Image courtesy of artist

Leon Pericles is an artist whose imagination has produced an astounding collection of works spanning paintings, prints, etchings, collages, sculptural works and even a competition-winning kite.  In 1969, while still an art student, he held his first solo exhibition.  More than two decades later, the inaugural Fine Art@Hale exhibition in 1993 saw Leon exhibiting alongside his Hale art teacher Robert Juniper who was a significant influence in Leon’s decision to pursue art as a career.  That year he donated his Artist Proof of the etching Memories For An Old Boy, the first of three etchings he has done over the years with his old school as the subject.  The work features Memorial Hall as well as distinctive Hale symbols such as the school crest, badges and the Year 12 kipper.  This year, which marks his 28th Fine Art@Hale exhibition, Leon is exhibiting three pieces, including another one of his Hale-inspired etchings, From Humble Beginnings.

Memories For An Old Boy 1992

Like those of his former school, Leon’s beginnings were humble.  Born in Meekatharra, his parents were publicans whose busy working lives running a series of hotels left Leon to create his own entertainment.  He countered the loneliness of hotel life with his rich imagination and early interest in drawing, collecting and exploring.  These beginnings were formative in developing his unique style that is both eccentric and incredibly detailed. Leon’s artworks invite the viewer to spend time and revisit the work, with the potential to discover a new element that may be amusing, satirical, thought provoking or all three.  This attention to detail is intrinsic to the way Leon approaches his work and drives his creativity.

“There’s a couple of little pieces that I really enjoy probably because of the invention of it and the wit,” he says. “I get really excited when I come up with another idea that’s worthy of putting in the hundreds of hours.  I’ll write down the various aspects of what I’m trying to say and do and then I’ll do some research on it and after I’ve done some research then it becomes quite serious and I actually have to do the work.  Then I have to find more research so it becomes quite drawn out.”

Memories For An Old Boy 1992

Like many of his works, From Humble Beginnings is meticulously crafted with details that will keep Hale viewers engaged and captivated.  The piece includes symbols of the various Hale houses, pins and badges, and an old photograph of the 1890 touring cricket team. One half of the work is an etching which is filled with painstakingly carved lettering describing many of Hale’s subjects, clubs and various influences on education and human life. It also contains “a little device which I’ve invented to illustrate the passage of a young person, a young student.  It’s got a barometer on the outside, inside that there’s a compass and inside that is a clock.”

On the exterior of the device are things that you can’t change.  “It swings between being born into a caring family, or being born into poverty, slavery, contagious epidemics which we’ve just gone through…. So all of these things affect the earliest part and after that you’ve got the compass and the compass refers to you following your dream.”

The compass is labelled with possibilities including: Wrong Way; Guided & Directed; Uncharted Course; Drifting; Lost and Inspired & Creative Path.

“Inside those two things is the clock and that talks about how efficient you are with procrastination and expedience and wasteful haste and vigilance and dexterity.  All of these things refer to your capacity to work efficiently with time.”

From Humble Beginnings 2008

The symbolism of the barometer, compass and clock will be echoed in a new sculptural commission that Leon is working on for the refurbished Hale Senior School reception area.  This new piece will also feature all the subjects that Hale has taught since its foundation, sandblasted into the marble around the work. Leon is concurrently working on the largest canvas artwork he has ever done, a commission for the new foyer of the Parmelia Hotel.  

His retrospective exhibition in 2018 showcased more than 500 works spanning his fifty year career, but Leon shows no signs of losing the desire and energy to create.  It is the wit and whimsy in the work that is fundamental to his continued creativity.  He loves that a viewer can return to his work many times and discover new details, but it is the giggling at these details that brings him the greatest pleasure.

“I think I like being humorous because it’s a personality thing that when somebody is laughing at something you’ve said you know you really are connecting with somebody.  So sometimes I’ve got humour in the work and it’s very different from somebody saying ‘oh yes I really love your work’ and they could be just trying to be flattering.  When somebody is laughing at your work then you know that is a very honest emotion.” 

“I probably would have liked to have been a comedian at some stage but I’m too nervous to go out on stage so that would never happen,” he says. Instead the comedy is in the art, “hidden sometimes.”

“I [remember]…going into an exhibition of my work and hearing a couple at the other end of the gallery in absolute hysterics because once you’ve laughed at a few things then you just laugh at everything. The two ladies were just absolutely beside themselves.  It was lovely.  Really lovely.”

Lostassocka Pestafrustrator 2002

Leon’s focus on the viewer’s amusement has influenced his art practice from the beginning. His quirky and wry observations of society, paired with his precision in the execution of his craft, have provided him with a successful career as an artist and shared joy in the playfulness of his artwork.  Reflecting upon the early days of his art career, he says:

“I do remember sitting on the steps out at Curtin – it was called WAIT in those days – with a couple of other classmates around me saying ‘we’ve only got a couple of weeks ’til the end of the year, what are you going to do, how are you going to survive?’  I’d already made plans to go to England to do postgrad stuff, but I said that if I don’t get into the college in England I definitely will be making sure that I survive as an artist. I’ll be paying attention to what people say about my work. I knew that was going to be very different to what academia would say about my work; the art critics, and art reviewers and curators.  They have a totally different theory about the work.  But I really enjoy people enjoying the work.  That’s my pleasure.  I really do get a lot out of that and I’ve just been lucky that I’ve found a niche that is really comfortable with the public.  We’re very lucky, very lucky.”

Leon and Moira Pericles in the studio 1990s – Image courtesy of the artist