Colin Lanceley's legacy a record of the Illawarra

Wollongong Art Gallery's John Monteleone with Between the Escarpment and the Seas. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER
Wollongong Art Gallery's John Monteleone with Between the Escarpment and the Seas. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

Celebrated Australian artist Colin Lanceley's last painting was of the Illawarra - a region he held dear.

Lanceley, who died in a Sydney palliative care centre on Friday aged 76, had struggled to paint for two years due to a chronic heart condition.

However, his son Felix, a Thirroul resident, said his father had asked for his assistance in preparing for what would become his final work - Between the Escarpment and the Sea.

Colin Lanceley. Picture: MICHELE MOSSOP

Colin Lanceley. Picture: MICHELE MOSSOP

The now-demolished Port Kembla copper stack dominates the colourful painting and assemblage work which remains part of Wollongong City Gallery's permanent collection.

"He was commissioned to do the Wollongong painting [around 18 months ago] and that was a real struggle for him as he was not particularly mobile at that time," Felix Lanceley said.

"I drove up and picked him up [from his Surry Hills home] and brought him down and took him to different areas - we drove around to get different views of Mt Keira, we went to [Wollongong] university and the harbour, we took a little walk around the lighthouse and he did some sketches.

"It was a special time for us."

Father and son also drove to the base of the stack, which was demolished last February, and the iconic structure became the central pillar of the painting.

"It came down shortly after he completed the painting and while he felt some sadness to see such an interesting and impressive structure go, he felt happy that it was in some way immortalised within the painting," Mr Lanceley said.

The renowned artist's work is held in most state galleries and in public collections in the US, Europe and Britain including in London's Victoria and Albert Museum.

"He was an amazing colourist," Mr Lanceley said. "He was always trying to do different things - he didn't just create the same thing again and again.

"... He always stayed true to his aesthetic and his art form and his beliefs - he never sold out."

The artist, his wife Kay, and their sons Felix and Tristan lived in Sydney but enjoyed holiday homes in Coledale, then Wombarra and Gerringong. Memories of those weekends spent by his father's side will be forever treasured.

"He always loved this area - he thought it was beautiful," Mr Lanceley said. "He loved the shapes of the escarpment and was really interested in the industrial history of the region.

"He was interested in found objects - and loved finding things on the beach such as shells, rocks, washed-up bits of driftwood.

"Some of my favourite recollections are of going spearfishing with him off Sharky's beach at Coledale; going on night walks down to the boat ramp and watching the fishermen bring in their catch; walking alongside the train tracks with him and picking up coal for our coal-burner."

Mr Lanceley said watching his "passionate" and vibrant father deteriorate in the past couple of years had been devastating.

"It's been difficult to watch as he's basically been immobile for some time," he said.

"... It was dreadfully frustrating for him."

Last Thursday night Mr Lanceley decided to go and visit his father, rather than waiting until Saturday morning as planned.

"We are all struggling - but I'm grateful that I got to spend that last time with him," he said.