The Society of Limners was formed in 1971. The founding members were Maxwell Bates, who became the president and remained so until his death in 1980, Herbert Siebner, Myfanwy Pavelic, Karl Spreitz, Nita Forrest, Richard Ciccimarra, Elza Mayhew, Robert de Castro, and Robin Skelton, all of whom exhibited their works with the group. The two non-exhibiting members were Niki Pavelic, and Sylvia Skelton who became and have remained, the group’s treasurer and secretary respectively. There have been some changes during the ten years of the group’s existence. Nita Forrest left in 1972, but rejoined it in 1980. Richard Ciccimarra died in 1973. Peter Pollen was created an honorary member in 1974. Jack Wilkinson became a member in 1978. Robert de Castro left the group in 1980, and in 1981 Pat Martin Bates, Walter Dexter, Colin Graham, and Jan Grove joined it, and Charles and Richard Morriss were elected honorary members. On the death of Maxwell Bates in 1980 Myfanwy Pavelic became President.

Max's Birthday (The Limners), Myfanwy Pavelic (1970)

Max’s Birthday (The Limners), Myfanwy Pavelic, 1970, University of Victoria Art Collections

When artists form themselves into a group they may do so for several reasons. Some groups are doctrinaire, exponents of some particular theory, some programme, and these tend to issue argumentative manifestos and indulge in propaganda. Some groups are created in order to explore a particular medium, or exploit a given subject matter. Others are simply groups of friends who wish to work together and to bring each other’s work to the public in a more effective manner than is possible for an artist working entirely alone. The Limners take their name from the traveling journeyman painters of the middle ages who earned their bread by making portraits and signs for inns. The Limners, therefore, it may be deduced, are not doctrinaire; they have no manifesto. They have not bound themselves to any limitation of subject matter. They are, certainly, a group of friends and concerned to help each other by means of group exhibitions, but what really binds them together is an interest in what I must call “depth exploration of the human creature.”

I use this clumsy phrase because I wish to indicate that, unlike the Pop and post-Pop school of artists and the neo-realists, The Limners wish neither to deal in the ad-mass version of man, the fantasies of the comic books, television commercials, and magazines, nor in the haunting ad obsessive reportage of surfaces. The human figure appears in the majority of the work of the painters in the group, but the group as a whole is not wedded to figurative art or only to the presentation of a vision of the human face and body. Nevertheless it is useful to begin by pointing out the ways in which the painters choose to interpret the human figure. Richard Ciccimarra’s men and women are shadowy, almost insubstantial; ghost-like they express by their stances and gestures the solitude and mortality of man, and the tenuous nature of individuality. They are people on the very edge of dissolution, withdrawn, silent, alienated. Maxwell Bates gave the other side of the coin; his creatures are vibrant with energy, individualized to the point of caricature, and pictured in a world of materialism to which they react with clumsy resignation or self-distorting passion. Maxwell Bates, however, also presented the haunting figures of man’s imagination and of myth; his kings, beggars and scarecrows are materials of our dreams and our legends and they challenge our contemporary world with their ancient wisdom. Herbert Siebner’s figures are frequently mythic. His landscape is peopled with giants, centaurs, goddesses, priests and grotesques. The female figure is an image of Anima, of the Muse Goddess, of the principle of fertility and of earth-wisdom. Like Maxell Bates, he makes his myths challenge the complacency of our bourgeois culture; his vision is tragi-comic, and his philosophy both mystical and Rabelaisian. Nita Forrest’s work is equally symbolic; her men and women are those of the world of dream and intuition. They loom and dwindle as if made of cloud stuff, and yet they are also intensely human: they lead us towards both awe and compassion. The work of Karl Spreitz is tragi-comic. His wit and his inventiveness combine with his strong sense of the absurd to present a world which is filled with both humour and pathos. Jack Wilkinson’s paintings of women are all subtly poised between the world of present day reality and that of legend. His landscapes are often mysterious with shadows that suggest half-seen presences.

First Limners (Dark), Myfanwy Pavelic (1973)

First Limners (Dark), Myfanwy Pavelic (1973)

Myfanwy Pavelic’s most characteristic work is in the field of portraiture, but the portraits are of the school of Rembrandt rather than, let us say, Sargent; they are pictures of human needs and feelings. The hands reach out with yearning and suffering or lie idle in heavy resignation; bodies hunch in concentration or gesticulate with passion. There is little distortion and the paintings may sometimes be said to be camera-true, but the camera lens is the eye of intuition, of depth-perception, not that of surface observation. Thus among the painters there is a range of approach from the most extreme symbolism to something approaching realism; in all, however, the attempt is to portray universal human truths by means of imagery which may vary its degree of surface realism. Pat Martin Bates’ work is sometimes figurative and sometimes not. In a notebook she quoted Philip Bates’ aphorism “Beneath the tides of sleep and time strange fish are moving,” and wrote “You ask me what my work is about and I say, In it is what is in it. It’s about everything and nothing. There is a thin silver thread between where the real world leaves off and the unreal world begins. I try to balance on that thread.” The landscapes and townscapes of Colin Graham similarly poised between the naturalistic and the numinous. The actual world seems part of a lucid dream, at once radiant and mysterious, precisely patterned and yet somehow spectral. Robin Skelton, in his collages, combines images from the world of glossy magazines to explore, sometimes humorously, the fantasies and obsessions that possess us and surround us. With this in mind it is easy to see how the sculptors and potters fit into the group. Elza Mayhew’s sculptures are all oriented toward human needs. Her big vertical sculptures are not only totemistic presentations of human history, but also restatements of man’s need to worship. Her reclining figures are all altars and tables; her smaller pieces are frequently household gods, and much of her work relates to notions of the human family. Jan Grove’s ceramic sculptures are similarly mythic. His creatures are those of legend, fantasy, and vision. Singly or in groups they represent the gods and heroes of our archetypal dreams. Walter Dexter’s work has a ritual strength. His raku pots, patterned with the brush strokes of an unknown language, seem profound and half-understood messages. His plates and bowls present images of man’s most ancient beliefs.

In the work of all The Limners it is the human content which matters. As a group they are opposed to that denigration of humanity which results when men and women are portrayed as lay figures for a pictorial design, or presented as creatures of one mood. To The Limners, as to Hamlet, man is “infinite in faculty,” and it is the strength of the group that they bring to their depth exploration of the human creature a rich variety of methods and emphases. In this last half of the twentieth century, when the world’s art, literature, music, politics, economics, religion, and philosophy, are all undergoing frequent upheavals, and when all settled notions about human identity and human society are being challenged, it is important to have a group of artists exploring, with no doctrinaire limitations, the nature of human experience, and presenting their discoveries to us in a manner which enables us to gain a multiple perspective upon the life we are all so confusedly living.

Source: Skelton, Robin. The Limners, The Pharos Press, 1981 (n.p.)
Reprinted with permission.