Artists statement

Artist Leonard French said of this work:-
"The centre panel suggests a tree of knowledge growing out of a jewelled fish (a spiritual accompaniment is intended), and from the tree birds rise, spreading out through the cloud shapes of the other panels. Hands and figures rise from the earth, reaching for the birds.
The left hand panel depicts the journey of figures in a boat, the seeking after or journeying to the source of knowledge. The far right hand panel is the garden, figures in a primitive state, a sort of evolution of figures from a primitive garden (the first garden).
Visualization, verbalization, music and dance are tools we have to express a concept. The analysis of an art work is a delicate and sensitive task and great harm can be done in an attempt to become verbal about a form which relies upon elements peculiar to itself for intrinsic meaning."

Historical information

Leonard FRENCH (OBE) (08 October 1928 - 10 January 2017)
Born Brunswick, Victoria
Died Heathcote, Victoria

Known for his enormous dalle de verre (concrete and slab glass) ceiling in the Great Hall of the National Gallery of Victoria Leonard French produced a large body of work throughout his lifetime. French won the Sulman Prize in 1960, and the Blake Prize for Religious Art in 1963 and in 1980. He was also awarded a Harkness Fellowship in 1965. In the Queen's Birthday Honours of June 1968 he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

In early 1959 Leonard French was commissioned by the Ballarat Teachers' College students to paint a mural. The students were responsible for the payment of the work. When unveiled artist George Bush remarked: "the 1959 students have left something not just to 'oooh' and 'ah' at, but something that is thought provoking, arresting and interesting. This work of art keeps something in reserve and draws you to search for deeper meaning behind the splendour of colour. This mural is not one which will not fade the interest of its beholders, but one which will provide intrigue for generations to come."

Originally French intended the mural to be five panels, each entitled (left to right) 'the Journey', 'Man', 'The Tree', 'The Earth', 'The Garden'. The finished mural was reduced to four panels with the central tree incorporated into the panels 'Earth' and 'Man'.

Ballarat Teachers' College Art lecturer Arch Cuthbertson explained that the artist:-
"Aims at evoking emotional flashed, opening doors to simultaneous thinking and feeling. To accomplish this he juxtaposes the threads of conscious and unconscious images, thus effecting a tapestry that allows many points of reference to converge upon his singular images. Whether the colours offer metaphysical sensations or convey a literal meaning will depend upon the breadth and depth of the viewer's experience. Similarly with the bird - we might well ask is it a defiance of gravity, a metaphysical ascension or the elusive winged knowledge? Again the answer could well be that these three associations have a singular purpose. "

This item is part of the Federation University Art Collection. The Art Collection features over 2000 works and was listed as a 'Ballarat Treasure' in 2007.

Physical description

A four panel mural by Leonard French, commissioned and gifted by the Ballarat Teachers' College Student in 1959. Art lecturer Arch Cuthbertson was highly involved in this commission.

Artist Charles Bush unveiled the mural at the Ballarat Teachers' College in Gillies Street, Ballarat. At that time he said:-
"You have left behind you on object which will be full of interest to a lot of people. A work of art, so long as it is in existence, is constantly under review. Most of the good things that keep on going are usually to the uninitiated a little worrying. Many of you will be worried by this, because it does not make its message immediately clear. But come back and assess it again and again."