Bill Coleman was born in Ballarat in Victoria in 1922. He was known as a painter and a printmaker. Bill Coleman started painting as a child and was encouraged by his grandfather who was the Curator of the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery. Coleman went on to study commercial art at Brighton Technical College under the artist Allan Thomas Bernaldo.
From 1940-1974, Coleman worked as a cartographer and photographic artist at the firm P.C. Grosser. While working as an apprentice for this firm, Coleman studied part part-time at Melbourne Technical College (now the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) from 1940-47 under Murray Griffin and Victor Greenhalgh. He also spent weekends at the George Bell School from 1948 to 1954, making small figurative prints as part of a group using Bell’s improved printing press.
The year 1945 saw Coleman involved in his first group exhibition at the Velasquez Gallery and in 1946 he became a member of the Victorian Artists’ Society and continued to exhibit with them annually. He was a member of several art societies, including the Contemporary Art Society and in 1953 became a Council Member of the Melbourne Contemporary Artist’s Society, remaining with them until 1985. Melbourne’s Contemporary Artist’s Society was formed by George Bell (1878-1966) as a break-away group from the Contemporary Art Society. Coleman continued to exhibit widely with group shows from 1945 as well as hold solo exhibitions from 1972.
His distinctive style was mainly figurative and modernist in nature, with his subjects primarily being figures, genre scenes, domestic interiors and nudes. Bill Coleman said of his work:
“When I first started to paint I used to imitate nature; I then realised that it was what the artist did and felt about nature that made it art.
I became interested in Cubism so I looked for form and structure … I found that a painting had a form of its own – that it should have a space but not distance. The two dimensional painters argued that artists were searching for truth; yet they were painting three dimensional images on a two dimensional surface. Whilst other artists moved to non objective or abstract expressionism, I tired to balance opposites.
I felt that a painting should have an element of the real and the abstract, light and dark, rough and smooth, harmony and discord or colour and line. In my opinion, it is the artist who can balance the most opposites (who) should be the best artist.
Minimalist painting could only go so minimal; where as the balance of opposites is only restricted by the ability of the artist. That is what I have been trying to achieve.”
In 1956 Coleman married Benita Huik who arrived in Australia in 1948 from Estonia. His first major art exhibition was held in 1969 at 39 Steps Gallery at Little Collins Street in Melbourne, sharing the gallery space for a joint exhibition with fellow artist Jim Crofts.
This was followed by his first solo exhibition in 1972 at the Parthenon Galleries in Melbourne. In 1973 he exhibited interstate at the Francois Gallery in Sydney. In 1973 he won the Cheltenham Art Group Award.
Coleman retired from P.C. Grosser in 1974 to paint full-time and held a solo exhibition at Bartoni International Gallery. In 1976 he showed work at the international exhibition De’auville in Paris and Berlin.
During his career, Bill Coleman won several awards, including: the ACI Award at the Victorian Artist’s Society Winter Exhibition; a Diploma for the Best Composition, Twenty-eight Grand Prix International, France; 1977 applied Chemicals Pty Ltd Art Prize at Victorian Artists’ Society winter Exhibition; 1978 first group exhibition with the Five Plus Group, Victorian Artists’ Society.
In 1980, Coleman’s wife Benita died. In 1981 he illustrated “The Ugly Princess” by Ron Scarf, Drew Publishing, Melbourne.
In 1986 the Bendigo Art Gallery held a Retrospective Exhibition of his art, which then toured to the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery and the Sale Regional Arts Centre. In the same year he also held a joint exhibition with George Bell at Allyn Fisher Fine Arts in Bendigo. The following year, the Holland Fine Art Gallery in Sydney held an exhibition of his work entitled “A Lifetime of Works 1949-1987”; and in 1989 a Bill Coleman Retrospective was held at the Gryphon Gallery at the Melbourne University.
Bill Coleman died in Melbourne in 1992. His work is represented at the Albury Regional Art Centre, NSW; Bendigo Art Gallery, Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Davenport Gallery & Arts Centre, Tasmania; Mildura Arts Centre, Victoria; Manly Art Gallery & Museum, Sydney; State Library of Victoria; University of Melbourne Art Collection; Vancouver Arts Centre Gallery, Albany, WA; Warrnambool Art Gallery, Victoria and the Waverley City Gallery, Victoria, the City Museum of Lipoua, Transylvania in Romania, the Northcote City Council Collection, the New York Public Library (Art & Architect Division), Waverley City Council Collection, private collections in Australia and overseas.