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Harley Oliver: Hitters, Grapplers and Strongmen

ABOVE: Harley Oliver, 'Max Stuart', 2017, Oil on Polyester, 66 x 51cm and Harley Oliver, 'Viktor Solovev', 2017, Oil on Linen, 50.6cm x 40.1cm

Boxers, wrestlers, circus strong men of the early 1900s. Brief heroes.

These paintings are about fame. Life is short and fame is even shorter. The story is in their faces.

“I found an old photo of boxer Kid Lavigne,” says artist Harley Oliver.

”In 1894 he killed a man in the ring. By beating him to death, he took on that man’s title - US Lightweight Champion. I looked again at the photo . There’s none of that story in his face. I thought I’d try and expand that image as a portrait on canvas“


Harley Oliver, Pyotr Kryloff, 2017, Oil on Linen, 50.5 x 40.6 cm

That idea developed into the series ‘Hitters, Grapplers & Strongmen’, ten paintings showing at the Stanley Street Gallery from February 28th to 24th March.

Strongmen like Georg Lurich are there too.

“A huge man, still a legend in Estonia. Indestructible as a wrestler, he got caught up in fighting during the Russian revolution. He survived that but died a few months later from Typhoid.”

Two Australians are in the series; Max Carlos , who was tipped to win a medal in the ’56 Olympics and Max Stuart, an aboriginal tent boxer who was arrested for the brutal murder of a nine year old girl from Ceduna.


Harley Oliver, Unknown Strongman, 2017, Oil on Linen, 50.6 cm x 50.1cm

Even though he spoke hardly a word of English, the police produced a detailed confession.

He maintained he was given a beating by police.

Sentenced to hang, his case caused great public concern.

Led by Rupert Murdoch, then publisher of the Adelaide Times the court was persuaded to commute the sentence to life in prison.

There’s a story in each of these portraits of fighters, underdogs and champions.

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