Monday, September 21, 2009

Imagination & Visionaries Part Five

Rosaleen journeyed to Melbourne in 1949 with her lover, the poet Gavin Greenlees, to set up an exhibition at the university there. Four of the artworks included in the exhibition were seized by the police and prosecuted on charges of obscenity. She was prosecuted with the Crown prosecution alleging that such works could 'deprave and corrupt the morals of those who saw them' and the police alleged that they were inspired by works of medieval demonology. The charges against her were dismissed and the charge of four pounds and four shillings awarded against the police department. In 1952 a beautifully produced leather-bound limited edition book of her paintings, with each one complemented by a poem by Gavin Greenlees (15 April 1930-5 December 1983), was published by Walter Glover. The book should have been a success-produced in a numbered edition of 500. However, in 1953 the work was seized by the authorities. Two pictures in it had been judged to be obscene. The volume was subsequently allowed to be sold with the censor's ink covering parts of the offending pictures. The book was not only banned by American customs, but copies of the book were confiscated and burned by the U.S. Customs Department.

The tabloid press had a field day with headlines such as the "most blatant example of obscenity yet published in Australia." Now Rosaleen Norton was the subject of increasingly lurid stories by the yellow press with headlines referring to her as "the witch of Kings Cross." Dark stories of witchcraft, "black masses," sexual magical rites and Satanism began to regularly appear in Australian newspapers and magazines, and "Roie Norton" soon became a household name. Gavin Greenlees became quite involved in one particular incident. Thieves tried to sell pictures of Norton and Greenlees in flagrante delicto to the press. Obviously the pix weren't published but news that they simply existed at all shocked conservative Australia. Finally, in April 1957, Norton and Greenlees would be found guilty of assisting in the production of obscene photographs and fined. On 5 March 1956, Sir Eugene Aynsley Goossens, who was the ABC director of music, conductor of the Sydney Symphony and head of the NSW State Conservatory of Music was arriving in Australia from a trip to his native England. Goossens was a friend of Norton and Greenlees. He was stopped at Sydney airport and accused of importing prohibited imports, including pornographic photos and ceremonial masks and other "paraphenalia" for use in certain "rituals."

Due to the public scandals, Goossens lost his jobs and was forced to return to England within two months where he died in 1962. It has never been completely explained as to the motive the authorities had for searching the famed conductor and his luggage. It is believed by many that the authorities stole letters from Goossens to Norton which talked about sex magick from when they had illegally searched Norton's home. In 1957 Walter Glover was declared bankrupt and the copyrights to the artwork which had been assigned to him were taken over by the Official Receiver in Bankruptcy. The copyrights to Norton's artwork were finally returned to him in 1981. He managed to re-publish the book without difficulty in the more liberal political atmosphere of 1982. Rosaleen Norton had died in 1979 and didn't live to see her work published without being violated and to receive the respect it deserved. Sadly, Norton's life provided so much grist for the mill for the yellow press (and more respectable publications) her artwork was mostly ignored by galleries and critics of her day. Luckily the more Bohemian and cutting-edge bars and coffee shops of Kings Cross would often exhibit her work and she would sell paintings now and then through these places.

Norton was occasionally employed to paint murals in cafes and clubs. Throughout the 1960s, Norton was famed as the head of an active coven in Kings Cross, and she was regularly featured in the popular press. Friends who know her from this time recall her with fondness and invariably refer to how kind she was, quite the opposite from the disturbed "demon" or "sex maniac" painted by the press. Two more works of Rosaleen Norton's are shown in this article. The top image shows the god Pan. This was the major god she worshipped. To be continued...

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