Denis Mortimer (1955- )

Pre-empting nine-eleven

Dennis Mortimer 1 was using a drawing of portion of a telescopic head, from the New York Twin Towers Buildings, as a symbol of sadness in his paintings before the 2000 disaster when terrorists stole two planes and crashed them into the New York Twin Towers causing them to collapse on day, nine-eleven. 2

Australian National University – Canberra School of Art

Based in Queanbeyan, for the past three years (2002-2005) as artist in resident at The Artists Shed – studio and gallery3 Denis Mortimer’s work is socially based. 4

Mortimer grew up in Green Valley in Sydney’s western suburbs and had his first introduction to art as a ten year old on a school excursion to the Sydney NSW Art Gallery in 1965. The trip evoked his curiosity about the work of American Abstract Expressionist painters like Jasper Johns. 5

Mortimer’s curiosity and questions on symbolism remained unanswered by the Miller Public School teachers and he started making his own trips to the NSW Art Gallery when only 13 years of age. 6

Mortimer was in his thirties when he started formal training in an art environment. First at Moss Vale TAFE where he learnt the technical aspects of drawing and painting before enrolling in a fine arts degree course at the Australian National University’s School of Art. 7

Mortimer used a realistic chair surrounded by abstract building shapes in paintings to express his feelings of confinement and isolation during his student days at the Canberra School of Art. 8

Glasgow School of Arts

In contrast he felt the environment was perfect and his work positive when he attended Scotland’s Glasgow School of Arts as an exchange student during 1994-95. 9

Denis Mortimer felt the Glasgow lecturers did not force their own artistic imprint on students and as a result he felt the student artwork was as diverse and inspirational as the city itself. 10

Founded by the Christian missionary Saint Mungo in the 6th century Glasgow’s history is vague until the Cathedral was built in the 12th century. 11

When a university was founded in the 14th century Glasgow continued to improve and became the centre of religious and academic influence by the 16th century. 12

Charles Rennie Mackintosh

This was challenged during the 16th century when the power of the trades and craftsmen began to usurp the church and Glasgow became a significant trading post. 13

The de-silting of the river Clyde in the 1770′s allowed larger ships carrying tobacco from America and sugar from the Caribbean to further access the river. This led to the 19th century ship and train building and industrialization boom which was aided by available local resources of coal and iron. 14

The Glasgow School of Art had its beginnings as a design school from the original shipbuilding day’s 100 years ago and was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh a member of The Glasgow Four Art Nouveau group. 15

Art Nouveau

“Art Nouveau was a reaction against the mass production and industrialization of the former home and craft industry. It also incorporated the use of curves from plants and vines with element s from other countries such as Japanese art.  The downfall of Art Nouveau was the cost of the craftsmanship in time and effort in making the furniture. It was never reproduced commercially because of excessive manufacturing costs. A short lived decorative-art movement of 35 years from 1880s to WW1 the influences of Art Nouveau can still be seen in art works of today”. 16

Victorian Architecture

The Glasgow School of Art is recognized as Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s major design work and is accepted as a forerunner of the modern movement. This design and architecture school base still remains as an integral part of the Glasgow School of Art along with a Public Art course and a Creating Public Spaces course. 17

Although most of Medieval Glasgow has been destroyed Glasgow is now known for its 19th century Victorian architecture and its wonderful monuments built by the rich merchant class during the period. 18

The industrial revolution and building of the 19th century also saw the mass immigration of cheap labour from Ireland and other European countries bringing the religious differences and rivalry that still exist today. Widespread poverty and health problems are also still part of life in Glasgow. 19

After 12 months in Scotland Mortimer arrived back in Australia with 100 paintings and rolls and rolls of film including photographs of ancient graves and a taste for Guiness and the Scottish pub life. 20

Holistic Questioning of  Religion

The influence of Mortimer’s time in Scotland is seen in the present body of work. Although he still portrays emotions of sadness the work encompasses events happening in the world which have an impact on everyone rather than events having an individual base. 21

The 20 paintings in the Your Gods are Crying series seek a holistic solution to the events of 9-11, and do not blame a particular culture or its religion. 22

Mortimer uses the funeral lily along with green, blue and grey colours to symbolize and evoke sadness and calmness in the viewer irrespective of their religion of culture. 23

Artist Denis Mortimer said, “That vilifying or denigrating any group of people leads to further fractures in the social structure and does not prevent future disasters or heal the past. The fault, answer and solution is within our human nature because we are all human beings”. 24

The title Your God’s are Crying gives an indication of Mortimer’s pluralistic holistic questioning of religions, beliefs and cultures. 25

The pluralistic title emphases that not just one God but all the God’s are crying. 26


Footnotes / Resource

1. Connee-Colleen © Queanbeyan Outlook (7), “Why are all the Gods crying”, The Queanbeyan Age, 22 March, 2005, p. 5.
2. On 9th September, 2000 in New York, USA  terrorists stole aeroplanes and used two of them to crash into the Twin Tower buildings, which caused the buildings to collapse. Three thousand people lost their lives in connection with the disaster. Retribution and the start of the Iraq War on terror followed.
3. The Artists Shed – studio & gallery, 14 Foster Street Queanbeyan, open daily 10am-6pm. 0262970336.
4. Connee-Colleen © Interview with Denis Mortimer at the Artist Shed, 2005.
5. Interview, 2005; The art work at the NSW Art Gallery awakened Mortimer’s curiosity in art and showed him a new way of thinking and expression.
6-26. Interview, 2005.


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