Victorian artist Gareth Sansom is one of Australia’s most highly regarded painters. A pre-eminent figure of the Australian avant-garde for over 50 years, he is renowned for merging pop cultural references with intuitive and gestural mark making. His paintings, collages and watercolours are based on a personal iconography that includes imagery of a sexual, satirical and philosophical nature. Sansom’s luridly coloured and densely layered canvasses explore physical, psychological and material transformation; they begin as one thing but swiftly morph into another. Sansom rallies against his own control and consciousness in his work – he aspires to constantly surprise and challenge himself as an artist.

Born in Melbourne in 1939, Gareth Sansom studied art at RMIT between 1959 and 1964 and came to prominence in the 1960s as a radical convention-breaking painter, with influences ranging from Picasso and Jean Dubuffet to Francis Bacon and British pop art. He was Head of Painting, then Dean of the School of Art, at the Victorian College of the Arts between 1977 and 1991 before retiring to concentrate solely on his art practice.

The exhibition features work over the entirety of his celebrated career, though it eschews a chronological survey format, instead presenting work in juxtaposition and around key tendencies in his practice. Over 130 works are featured, including many never exhibited publicly before. Suites of works on paper and photography complement more than 50 paintings, including many recent works from the past 15 years, making up what many believe to be the artist’s most vital and outstanding period.

With works engaging with pop culture, art history, Australian vernacular, religion, mortality, sex and gender, this ambitious exhibition will surprise even those familiar with Sansom’s groundbreaking artistic practice.