Harley OliverHitters, Grapplers and Strongmen 28th February - 24th March 2018 | Stanley Street Gallery

Harley Oliver
Hitters, Grapplers and Strongmen

28th February – 24th March 2018

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“

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. 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.




Joe Gans


Joe Gans was a talented boxer but fought in an era when being black meant he could never be his own man. He started boxing young, around seventeen and over the next 18 years fought 196 times for a total of 1475 rounds. In 1902 he won the world lightweight championship.

A hero then ? Well maybe. The forces that surrounded him were often malevolent. Even his obituary is uncertain how to remember him. 

‘There is no telling what Gans might have accomplished, but he was early led astray by evil associations and up to the time when he fought that historic battle with Nelson in Goldfield four years ago, but few of the followers of the boxing game would trust Gans. He had been fighting to orders too long.

His first real, great stand was against Jimmy Britt in 1904, when he "lost on a foul" in the fifth round. This was one of the, most barefaced "frames" ever put over, and later Gans confessed the part he played.. It was shortly after that Gans was taken hold of by Benny Sellig, a manager who made money for him and gave him a reputation and the ambition to be honest. ‘

San Francisco Call (newspaper).

He died young of TB, fighting until the end.