Posts Tagged ‘Australian Aboriginal Art

14
Aug
20

Pamphlet: ‘Australian Aboriginal Art’ with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon, National Museum of Victoria, 1952

August 2020

 

Cover of the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon 1952

 

Unknown artist. Cover of the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art, National Museum of Victoria, 1952

 

 

I found this rare pamphlet in an op shop (charity shop). I have decided to publish it on Art Blart as part of a historical record, so that it is available to researchers into Indigenous Australian culture and art. While I believe that the text and images contain no information of secret sacred importance, if anyone has any concerns please contact me at bunyanth@netspace.net.au.

What is fascinating about the text is that it was originally published by the National Museum of Victoria in 1929, and then reprinted verbatim for this pamphlet in 1952. In other words, no new scholarship had taken place in the intervening 23 years that was noteworthy enough for the Museum to feel it needed to update the text. Other interesting facts are that Aboriginal Art was housed within the Australian Ethnology section, art as an outcome of the study of the characteristics of different people, and that it was known as “primitive art” made by “primitive peoples”. Even the National Gallery of Australia had a “primitive art” gallery up until the 1980s!

Of course, the texts are of their time. In the first text “The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett, he questions the quality, authenticity and age of the rock paintings at Mootwingee – whether they are a few centuries old or of old antiquity it – and apparently, it makes no difference. Barrett then praises the magic making art of Indigenous Australians, while at the same time encouraging us to look upon their art as merely pictures (Barrett, p. 11). He seems to be equally attracted and repulsed by “primitive art”, as an expression of man’s artistic tendency, in cave paintings and rock-carvings whose forms are grotesque and even repulsive.

Barrett admits that their finest decorations, on weapons and sacred objects, are magic: “Here is a magic truly; no “Art for Art’s sake.” (Barrett, p. 12). And then in the next paragraph, while extolling that we should have more interest in the Australian race, and learn its culture, he announces that Indigenous Australians are “living fossils” and are failing. Using the terminology of Edward S. Curtis (who photographed the First Nations Peoples of America in the early 20th century), they are The Vanishing Race (1904), the title of his photograph of Navajo riding off into an indeterminate distance. Destined for extinction. Further, Barrett states that every “relic” of the Aboriginals is worth preserving, as though all Indigenous people were already a historical artefact, no longer living. The use of the word relic is informative: its derivation comes from Old French relique (originally plural), from Latin reliquiae, the latter mid 17th century Latin, feminine plural (used as a noun) of reliquus ‘remaining’, based on linquere ‘to leave’. In other words, they remain and leave at one and the same time, the remainder only a husk of the original.

In the second text “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon, the researcher and psychologist into Indigenous art is urged, indeed must, divest themselves of all civilised conceptions and mentality and assume those of a prehistoric man – or that of a child. “Prior or the British settlement of Eastern Australia – to be precise, prior to Governor Phillip establishing his colony at Port Jackson, there appears to be no record of aboriginal paintings or carvings.” (A.S. Kenyon, p. 22) What Kenyon seems to be suggesting is that it is only through the influence of the “civilised” Europeans that Indigenous Australians begin painting and carving. A description of the various representational techniques of Indigenous Australian art making follows, the art divided into two classes: fixed and portable. “In the first class, those of fixed objects, we have (a) rock-paintings; (b) rock-carvings; (c) tree-carvings; (d) tree-paintings; (e) ground-paintings; (f) ground-models. In the second, or portable class, there are (a) figures or models; (b) weapons, implements and utensils, decorated either by painting or carving; (c) ceremonial objects; (d) ornaments or personal adornment; (e) bark-paintings. (A.S. Kenyon, p. 27)

I believe it is important to have these texts (which are less than 100 years old), and the paradoxical historical attitudes towards Australian Indigenous culture and art they contain, published online. The pamphlet recognises Aboriginal culture yet also rules a ledger under it. (Professor Tom Griffiths’ observations on Geoffrey Blainey’s book Triumph of the Nomads). The attitude was that while this “primitive art” was worthy of study, ultimately it belonged to an archaic, fragile culture which was destined to be consigned to history.

I am so glad that this spiritual culture (and the changing Western understanding of Australian Indigenous art and culture) has proved the authors wrong.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Title page of the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon 1952

 

Title page of the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952

 

Preface of the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon 1952

 

Preface of the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952

 

"The Primitive Artist" by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 5

 

"The Primitive Artist" by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 6-7

 

Mootwingee Rock Carvings

 

Unknown photographer. “Mootwingee Rock Carvings. Pecked Type,” in “The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 6

 

Great Rock Shelter at Mootwingee, New South Wales

 

Unknown photographer. “Great Rock Shelter at Mootwingee, New South Wales,” in “The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 7

 

Rock Engraving, Mootwingee

 

Unknown photographer. “Rock Engraving, Mootwingee,” in “The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 7

 

"The Primitive Artist" by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 8-9

 

from North Queensland

 

“Painted Shields from North Queensland,” in “The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 9

 

"The Primitive Artist" by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 10-11

 

Bark Drawing. Northern Territory. Native in canoe spearing crocodile

 

“Bark Drawing. Northern Territory. Native in canoe spearing crocodile,” in “The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 11

 

"The Primitive Artist" by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 12-13

 

Rock Painting, South Africa

 

“Rock Painting, South Africa,” in “The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 12

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 14-15

 

 

“Native Corroboree. Drawn by Tommy Barnes, a Mission Aboriginal, showing European influence,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 14.

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 16-17

 

Prehistoric Rock Painting, Spain. Showing superimposed figures

 

“Prehistoric Rock Painting, Spain. Showing superimposed figures,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 16

 

Stone Churingas from Central Australia. Showing symbolic and totemic figures

 

“Stone Churingas from Central Australia. Showing symbolic and totemic figures,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 17

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 18-19

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 20-21

 

Rock Paintings. Prince Regent River, North-west Australia. Superimposed figures

 

“Rock Paintings. Prince Regent River, North-west Australia. Superimposed figures,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 21

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 22-23

 

Bark drawing representing Settler's Homestead, Lake Tyrrell, Victoria

 

“Bark drawing representing Settler’s Homestead, Lake Tyrrell, Victoria,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 23

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 24-25

 

Rock Carvings, Port Jackson, New South Wales. Grooved type

 

“Rock Carvings, Port Jackson, New South Wales. Grooved type,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 25

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 26-27

 

Rock Painting, Prince Regent River, North-west Australia. From Bradshaw's original sketch

 

“Rock Painting, Prince Regent River, North-west Australia. From Bradshaw’s original sketch,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 26

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 28-29

 

Stencilled Hands in the Cave of Hands, Victoria Range, Victoria

 

Unknown photographer. “Stencilled Hands in the Cave of Hands, Victoria Range, Victoria,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 29

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 30-31

 

Rock Painting, Cave of the Serpent, Langi Ghiran, Victoria

 

“Rock Painting, Cave of the Serpent, Langi Ghiran, Victoria,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 30

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 32-33

 

Carved Tree. From a photograph by Edmund Milne

 

Edmund Milne. “Carved Tree. From a photograph by Edmund Milne,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 32

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 34-35

 

Decorated Shields, Carved and Painted

 

“Decorated Shields, Carved and Painted,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 34

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 36-37

 

Painted Bark Bags, Northern Territory

 

“Painted Bark Bags, Northern Territory,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 36

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 38-39

 

Bark Paintings, Alligator River, Northern Territory

 

“Bark Paintings, Alligator River, Northern Territory,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 38

 

Making Tracings of Rock Paintings, Glen Isla Rock Shelter, Victoria Range, Victoria

 

Unknown photographer. “Making Tracings of Rock Paintings, Glen Isla Rock Shelter, Victoria Range, Victoria,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 39

 

 

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08
Oct
17

Review: ‘Brave New World: Australia 1930s’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 14th July – 15th October 2017

 

Harold Cazneaux (New Zealand 1878 - Australia 1953, Australia from 1886) 'No title (Powerlines and chute)' c. 1935

 

Harold Cazneaux (New Zealand 1878 – Australia 1953, Australia from 1886)
No title (Powerlines and chute)
c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of the H. J. Heinz II Charitable and Family Trust, Governor, 1993

 

 

In 1934 BHP (Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited) commissioned leading pictorialist photographer Harold Cazneaux to record their mining and steel operations for a special publication to mark their fiftieth anniversary in 1935. Cazneaux’s dramatic industrial images blended a soft, atmospheric focus with a modernist sense of space, form and geometry. In 1935-36 Australia exported close to 300,000 tonnes of iron ore to Japan; however, after Japan’s invasion of China in 1937 fear of its expansionist aims in the Pacific increased and soon afterwards the federal government announced a ban on the export of all iron ore to Japan.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

 

Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGV Australia, Melbourne is a small but stylishly designed exhibition that presents well in the gallery spaces. The look and feel of the exhibition is superb, and it was a joy to see so many works in so many disparate medium brought together to represent a decade in the history of Australia: photography, sculpture, painting, drawing, ceramic art, magazine art, travel posters, Art Deco radios, film, couture, culture, Aboriginal art, and furniture making, to name but a few.

The strong exhibition addresses most of the concerns of the 1930s – The Great Depression, beach and body culture, style, fashion, identity, culture, prelude to WW2, dystopian and utopian cities etc., – but it all felt a little cramped and truncated. Such a challenging time period needed a more expansive investigation. What there is was excellent but one display case on slums or magazine art was not substantive enough. The same can be said for most of the exhibition.

There needed to a lot more about the impact of the Great Depression and people living in poverty, for you get the feeling from this exhibition that everyone was living the Modernist high-life, wearing fashionable frocks and smoking cigarettes sitting around beautifully designed furniture surrounded by geometric textiles. The reality is that this paradigm was the exception rather than the rule. Many people struggled to even feed themselves due to The Great Depression, and it was a time of extreme hardship for people in Australia. Life for many, many people in Australia during the 1930s was a life of disenfranchisement, assimilation, oppression, social struggle, poverty, hunger and a hand to mouth existence.

“After the crash unemployment in Australia more than doubled to twenty-one per cent in mid-1930, and reached its peak in mid-1932 when almost thirty-two per cent of Australians were out of work… The Great Depression’s impact on Australian society was devastating. Without work and a steady income many people lost their homes and were forced to live in makeshift dwellings with poor heating and sanitation.” (“The Great Depression,” on the Australian Government website)

New artists and designers may have been emerging, new skyscrapers being built and the new ‘Modern Woman’ may have made her appearance but the changes only affected white, middle and upper social classes. Migrants, particularly those from Italy and southern Europe, were resented because they worked for less wages than others; and only brief mention is made of the White Australia policy in the exhibition but not by name (see text under Indigenous art and culture below). This section was more interested in how white artists appropriated Aboriginal design during this period for their own ends.

With this in mind, it is instructive to read sections of the illustrated handbook (not in the exhibition) produced by the National Museum of Victoria (in part, the forerunner of the NGV) to accompany a special exhibition of objects illustrating Australian Aboriginal Art in 1929:
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“The subject of aboriginal Art – in this case the Art of the Australian Aboriginal – has to be approached with the utmost caution, for, though it comes directly within the domain of anthropology, it is in an indirect way a very important question in psychology and pedagogies. We possess some knowledge of our own mentality through the kind of offices of psychology; but though we have some – many in certain classes – material relics of our primitive and prehistoric ancestor, the only evidence of evolution of thought and the development of his powers of abstract conception must be derived from his art…

Still it appears possible that the study of primitive man, as represented by our Australian black, will throw some new light on the subject, and even if not more important than the old world pictographs themselves, his art work will enable the efforts of the Aurignacian and Magdalenian artists [cultures of the Upper Paleolithic in western Europe] to be better comprehended, and their import understood. But, for that study to achieve even a modicum of success, it is essential that the inquiring psychologist divest his mind of all civilized conceptions and mentality and assume those of the prehistoric man – or of the infant of the present day.”1

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This is the attitude towards Aboriginal art that pervaded major art institutions right across Australia well into the 1950s. That the white has to “divest his mind of all civilized conceptions and mentality and assume those of the prehistoric man” – in other words, he has to become a savage – in order to understand Aboriginal art. It says a lot that the Trustees of the National Museum of Victoria then decided to reprint the illustrated handbook in 1952 without amendment, reprinting the publication originally used for the Exhibition in 1929. Nothing had changed in 22 years!

 

Australian Aboriginal Art 1962

 

National Museum of Victoria
Australian Aboriginal Art (cover)
1952 (reprint of 1929 illustrated handbook)
Brown, Prior, Anderson Pty. Ltd., Melbourne (publishers)
Trustees of the National Museum of Victoria
39 pages

 

 

Other small things in the exhibition rankle. The preponderance of the work of photographer Max Dupain is so overwhelming that from this exhibition, it would seem that he was the only photographer of note working in Australia throughout the decade. While Dupain was the first Modernist photographer in Australia, and a superb artist, Modernist photography was very much on the outer during most of the 1930s… the main art form of photography being that of Pictorialism. None of this under appreciated style of photography makes an appearance in this exhibition because it does not fit the theme of “Brave New World”. This dismisses the work of such people as Cecil Bostock, Harold Cazneaux, Henri Mallard, John Eaton et al as not producing “brave”, or valuable, portraits of a country during this time frame. This is a perspective that needs to be corrected.

Highlights for me in this exhibition included an earthenware vase by Ethel Blundell; a painting by that most incredible of atmospheric painters, Clarice Beckett (how I long to own one of her paintings!); a wonderful portrait by the underrated Cybil Craig; two stunning Keast Burke photographs; two beautiful stained glass windows of a male and female lifesaver; the slum photographs of F. Oswald Barnett (more please!); and the graphic covers of mostly short-lived radical magazines.

These highlights are worth the price of admission alone. A must see before the exhibition closes.

Marcus

  1. A. S. Kenyon. “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal.” in Australian Aboriginal Art. Melbourne: Trustees of the National Museum of Victoria, (1929) reprinted 1952, p. 15.

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Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

The 1930s was a turbulent time in Australia’s history. During this decade major world events, including the Depression and the rise of totalitarian regimes in Europe, shaped our nation’s evolving sense of identity. In the arts, progressive ideas jostled with reactionary positions, and artists brought substantial creative efforts to bear in articulating the pressing concerns of the period. Brave New World: Australia 1930s encompasses the multitude of artistic styles, both advanced and conservative, which were practised during the 1930s. Included are commercial art, architecture, fashion, industrial design, film and dance to present a complete picture of this dynamic time.

The exhibition charts the themes of celebrating technological progress and its antithesis in the nostalgia for pastoralism; the emergence of the ‘New Woman’ and consumerism; nationalism and the body culture movement; the increasing interest in Indigenous art against a backdrop of the government policy of assimilation and mounting calls for Indigenous rights; the devastating effects of the Depression and the rise of radical politics; and the arrival of European refugees and the increasing anxiety at the impending threat of the Second World War. Brave New World: Australia 1930s presents a fresh perspective on the extraordinary 1930s, revealing some of the social and political concerns that were pertinent then and remain so today.

Text from the NGV website

 

Fred Ward (designer) (Australia 1900-90)

 

Fred Ward (designer) (Australia 1900-90)
E. M. Vary, Fitzroy, Melbourne (attributed to) (manufacturer) active 1920s-40s

Sideboard
c. 1932
Mountain ash (Eucalyptus sp.), painted wood, painted plywood, steel
(a-e) 84.0 x 119.7 x 48.7 cm (overall)
Proposed acquisition

Side table
c. 1932
Mountain ash (Eucalyptus sp.), jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata), steel
55.7 x 66.0 x 49.2 cm
Proposed acquisition

Tray table
c. 1932
Mountain ash (Eucalyptus sp.), blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon), steel
(a-b) 52.0 x 60.9 x 42.5 cm (overall)
Proposed acquisition

 

 

A new generation of artists and designers

While modern art was a source of debate and controversy throughout the 1930s, modernism in architecture, interior design, industrial design and advertising became highly fashionable. In Melbourne a small group of designers pioneered modern design in Australia. Furniture designer Fred Ward first designed and made furniture for his home in Eaglemont, where he had established a studio workshop. It was admired by friends and he was encouraged to produce furniture for sale. In 1932 Ward opened a shop in Collins Street, Melbourne. There he offered his furniture, as well as linens and Scandinavian glass. The fabrics for curtains and upholstery were printed by Australian designer Michael O’Connell with bold designs that shocked some but were favoured by a new generation looking to create modern interiors.

More than in most periods, in the 1930s art, design and architecture were closely integrated with the changing realities of contemporary life. It was a time when the last vestiges of the conservative art establishment were swept away by a new generation of artists and designers who were to drive Australian art in the second half of the twentieth century.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Illustration for Kelvinator advertisement at left and Ethel Blundell’s Vase centre on sidboard
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

 

Fred Ward was one of the first and most important designers of modern furniture in Australia. He began making furniture around 1930, and in 1932 opened a shop in Collins Street selling his furniture, as well as textiles by Michael O’Connell and other modern design pieces. In 1934 Ward went into partnership with Myer Emporium and established the Myer Design Unit, for which he designed a line of modular ‘unit’ furniture for commercial production. Ward’s simple, functional aesthetic and use of local timbers with a natural waxed finish was in contrast to the luxurious materials and decorative motifs of the contemporary Art Deco style.

The armchair, sideboard and occasional tables were designed by Fred Ward and purchased by Maie Casey in the early 1930s. The wife of R. G. Casey, federal treasurer in the Lyons Government, Maie was a prominent supporter of modern art and design. Moving to Canberra in 1932, she furnished her house at Duntroon in a modern style with furniture by Ward and textiles by Michael O’Connell. The design of Ward’s armchair closely resembles a 1920s armchair by German Bauhaus furniture designer Erich Dieckmann, who was known for his standardised wooden furniture based on geometric designs.

 

Michael O'Connell designer (England 1898-1976, Australia 1920-37) 'Textile' c. 1933

 

Michael O’Connell designer (England 1898-1976, Australia 1920-37)
Textile
c. 1933
Block printed linen
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, 1988

 

 

Michael O’Connell pioneered modernist textiles in Melbourne and was an influential advocate of modern design. Working with his wife Ella from his studio in Beaumaris, O’Connell used woodblocks and linocuts to hand print onto raw linens and silks, which were used for fashion garments and home furnishing. O’Connell’s boldly patterned and highly stylised designs were considered startlingly modern. Some of his early fabrics featured ‘jazz age’ scenes of nightclubs and dancing, while later motifs were based on Australian flora and fauna, or derived from Oceanic and Aboriginal art.

 

Sam Atyeo. 'Album of designs: tables' c. 1933 - c. 1936

 

Sam Atyeo
Album of designs: tables
c. 1933 – c. 1936
Album: watercolour, brush and coloured inks, coloured pencils, 14 designs tipped into an album of 16 grey pages, card covers, tape and stapled binding
30.0 x 19.2 cm (page) 30.0 x 20.8 x 0.8 cm (closed)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of the artist, 1988

 

 

Sam Atyeo was a leading figure in Melbourne’s emerging modernist circles in the early 1930s, the partner of artist Moya Dyring and lover of Sunday Reed. He had studied at the National Gallery School, where he was a brilliant and rebellious student. Around 1932 Atyeo became friendly with Cynthia Reed, who managed Fred Ward’s furniture shop and interior design consultancy on Collins Street. After she opened Cynthia Reed Modern Furnishings in Little Collins Street, Atyeo designed furniture for Reed, that was strongly influenced by Ward’s designs.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Illustration for Kelvinator advertisement' 1936

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Illustration for Kelvinator advertisement
1936
Gelatin silver photograph
32.8 x 25.3 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2000

 

Ethel Blundell. 'Vase' 1936

 

Ethel Blundell
Vase
1936
Earthenware
17.6 x 16.8 cm diameter
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented through The Art Foundation of Victoria by Mrs Margaret Howie, Governor, 1999
© Ethel Blundell

 

 

Utopian cities

Modernity reflected what was new and progressive in Australian urban life. The image of the city became an allegory for this in art, and efficiency and speed became watchwords for modernity. Many artists celebrated the city and technological advancements in works utilising a modern style of hard-edged forms, flat colours and dynamic compositions. The engineering marvel of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which opened in 1932, was an ongoing source of fascination for artists, as were images of building the city, industry and modern modes of transport.

The skyscraper was also a powerful symbol of modern prosperity, especially when the Great Depression cast doubt on the inevitability of progress; hence the advent of tall buildings in Australian cities was hailed with relief and optimism. In 1932, at the peak of the Depression, the tallest building in Melbourne was opened: the Manchester Unity Building at the corner of Swanston and Collins streets. With its ornamental tower and spire taking its overall height to 64 metres, the building was welcomed by The Age newspaper as ‘a new symbol of enterprise and confidence, undaunted by the “temporary eclipse” of the country’s economic fortune’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Seventh city of the Empire – Melbourne, Victoria at left; and Evening dress at right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64) 'Seventh city of the Empire - Melbourne, Victoria' 1930s

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64)
Seventh city of the Empire – Melbourne, Victoria
1930s
Colour lithograph printed by J. E. Hackett, Melbourne
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Grant Lee, 2007

 

 

Percy Trompf’s poster celebrates Melbourne’s first skyscraper, the iconic Manchester Unity Building on the corner of Swanston and Collins streets. Designed by architect Marcus Barlow in the Art Deco ‘Gothic’ style, it was built at high speed between 1930 and 1932, and provided much needed employment during the Depression. At twelve storeys high and topped with a decorative tower it was Melbourne’s tallest building and contained the city’s first escalators. A powerful symbol of the city’s modernity, it was often featured in images of Melbourne.

 

Unknown, Australia 'Evening dress' c. 1935

 

Unknown, Australia
Evening dress
c. 1935
Silk
144.0 cm (centre back), 36.0 cm (waist, flat)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Miss Irene Mitchell, 1975

 

Ethel Spowers (Australia 1890-1947, England and France 1921-24) 'The works, Yallourn' 1933

 

Ethel Spowers (Australia 1890-1947, England and France 1921-24)
The works, Yallourn
1933
Colour linocut, ed. 3/50
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
The Joseph Brown Collection
Presented through the NGV Foundation by Dr Joseph Brown AO OBE, Honorary Life Benefactor, 2004

 

 

Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme were leading figures in modern art in Melbourne. In the 1920s they studied with modernist Claude Flight at the Grosvenor School in London, where they learnt to make colour linocuts that followed Flight’s principles of rhythmic design combined with flat colour. In April 1933 Spowers and Syme visited the Yallourn Power Station in Gippsland, which had been opened in 1928 and was the largest supplier of electricity to the state.

 

Vida Lahey (Australia 1882-1968) 'Sultry noon (Central Station Brisbane)' 1931

 

Vida Lahey (Australia 1882-1968)
Sultry noon (Central Station Brisbane)
1931
Oil on canvas on plywood
44.7 x 49.2 cm
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane Purchased 1983
© QAGOMA

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia 1887-1935) 'Taxi rank' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia 1887-1935)
Taxi rank
c. 1931
Oil on canvas on board
Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth

 

Installation view of Herbert Badham's 'George Street, Sydney' (1934) from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Herbert Badham’s George Street, Sydney (1934) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

After serving in the Royal Australian Navy during the First World War, Herbert Badham studied at the Sydney Art School and began exhibiting in 1927. In his paintings he was a keen observer of everyday urban life: streets with shoppers, city workers on their lunch break and drinkers in the pub were painted in a contemporary, hard-edged realist style.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Rush hour in King's Cross' 1938, printed c. 1986

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Rush hour in King’s Cross
1938, printed c. 1986
Gelatin silver photograph
41.2 x 40.3 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Mr A.C. Goode, Fellow, 1987

 

 

During the 1930s the city provided a rich source of imagery for artists working in modern styles, who celebrated the speed and efficiency of modern transport technology and expanding road and rail networks. Yet as car ownership increased during the 1930s, larger cities began to suffer congestion and the rush hour became part of urban life. Throughout the decade the pace and stress of modern life became a topic of public debate, with conservative commentators decrying this transformation of the Australian lifestyle.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Rush hour in King’s Cross at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Grace Cossington Smith’s The Bridge in-curve at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Grace Cossington Smith. 'The Bridge in-curve' 1930

 

Grace Cossington Smith (Australia 1892-1984, England and Germany 1912-14, England and Italy 1949-51)
The Bridge in-curve
1930
Tempera on cardboard
83.6 x 111.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by the National Gallery Society of Victoria, 1967
© Estate of Grace Cossington Smith

 

 

The slow rise of the Sydney Harbour Bridge above the city was recorded by numerous painters, printmakers and photographers, including Sydney modernist Grace Cossington Smith. Her iconic The Bridge-in-curve depicts the bridge just before its two arches were joined in August 1930, and conveys the sense of wonder, achievement and hope that was inspired by this engineering marvel. By painting the emerging, rather than the complete bridge, Cossington Smith also focuses our attention on the energy and ambition required to create it.

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Trains passing' 1940

 

Installation view of Frank Hinder’s Trains passing (1940) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Trains passing' 1940

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34)
Trains passing
1940
Oil on composition board
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1974

 

 

Frank Hinder was one of the first abstract artists in Australia. After living and studying in the United States, Hinder and his wife, the American sculptor Margel, returned to Sydney in 1934. There they became part of a small avant-garde group that included Grace Crowley, Rah Fizelle, Ralph Balson and the German sculptor and art historian Eleanore Lange, all of whom were interested in Cubist, Constructivist and Futurist art. Hinder later said that this work was inspired by seeing Lange, sitting next to him on a train, reflected in the windows of a passing train.

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Commuters' 1938

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34)
Commuters
1938
Tempera on paper on board
Private collection

 

Victorian Railways, Melbourne (publisher) Australia 1856-1976 'The Victorian Railways present The Spirit of Progress' 1937

 

Victorian Railways, Melbourne (publisher) Australia 1856-1976
The Victorian Railways present The Spirit of Progress
1937
Booklet: colour photolithographs and letterpress,
12 pages, cardboard cover
printed by Queen City Printers, Melbourne
20.8 x 26.8 cm (closed)
State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Launched in November 1937, The Spirit of Progress express passenger train was a source of immense pride to Victorians. Built in Newport, Victoria, the train featured many innovations, including all-steel carriages and full air-conditioning. Designed in the Art Deco, streamlined style by architectural firm Stephenson & Turner, the passenger carriages were fitted out to a level of comfort not previously seen in Australia, and included a full dining carriage. The train ran between Melbourne and the New South Wales state border at Albury, the longest non-stop train journey in Australia at that time, at an average speed of 84 kilometres per hour.

 

Installation view of Ivor Francis' 'Speed!' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Ivor Francis’ Speed! from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Ivor Francis (England 1906-Australia 1993, Australia from 1924) 'Speed!' 1931

 

Ivor Francis (England 1906-Australia 1993, Australia from 1924)
Speed!
1931
Colour process block print
Art Gallery of South Australia
Adelaide South Australian Government Grant 1986

 

Randille, Melbourne (maker) active 1930s 'Night gown' c. 1938

 

Randille, Melbourne (maker) active 1930s
Night gown
c. 1938
Silk (a) 166.0 cm (centre back) 38.9 cm (waist, flat) (dress) (b) 121.0 cm (centre back) 38.0 cm (waist, flat) (slip)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by Mrs A. G. Pringle, 1982

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Rush hour in King’s Cross left and Frank Hinder’s Jackhammer third from right and Margel Hinder’s Man with jackhammer second right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Margel Hinder (United States 1906-Australia 1995, Australia from 1934) 'Man with jackhammer' 1939

 

Margel Hinder (United States 1906-Australia 1995, Australia from 1934)
Man with jackhammer
1939
Cedar
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of J. B. Were & Son, Governor, 2001

 

 

American-born Margel Hinder was one of Australia’s leading modernist sculptors. She had studied art in Boston, where she met and married Sydney artist Frank Hinder. In 1934 they moved to Australia and became an important part of Sydney’s small modern art scene. In Man with jackhammer Hinder has simplified and contained the figure within a square frame, the strong diagonal form of the jackhammer creating a sense of compressed energy and force. Man and machine have fused in this celebration of industry and progress.

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Jackhammer' 1936

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34)
Jackhammer
1936
Airbrush on black paper
52.0 x 38.0 cm
Private collection, Sydney
© Enid Hawkins

 

 

Modern Woman

In the 1930s the new ‘Modern Woman’ made her appearance as a more serious and emancipated version of the giddy 1920s ‘flapper’. A woman who worked, she often lived alone in one of the new city apartment buildings, visited nightclubs and showed less interest in traditional marriage and child rearing. A lean body type became fashionable and was enhanced by the lengthened hemlines and defined waists introduced by French couturier Jean Patou in 1929. This slender silhouette was supported by form-fitting foundation garments by manufacturers such as Berlei.

The Modern Woman became one of the most potent images of contemporary life, being celebrated in women’s magazines such as the ultra-stylish Home and the Australian Women’s Weekly, launched in 1933. While such magazines were congratulating her and promoting new consumer goods to the Modern Woman, at the same time she was criticised by conservative commentators. In 1937 photographer Max Dupain wrote: ‘There must be a great shattering of modern values if woman is to continue to perpetuate the race… In her shred of a dress and little helmet of a hat, her cropped hair, and stark bearing, the modern woman is a sort of a soldier… It is not her fault it is her doom’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Peter Purves Smith’s Maisie left, Cybil Craig’s Peggy second left and Peter Purves Smith’s Lucile at  top right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Cybil Craig’s Peggy second left and Lina Bryans The babe is wise at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40) 'Maisie' 1938-39

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40)
Maisie
1938-39
Gouache
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Bequest of Lady Maisie Drysdale 2001

 

 

In 1937 the striking, auburn-haired Maisie Newbold was a student at the George Bell School in Melbourne, where she met fellow student Peter Purves Smith and his best friend Russell Drysdale. Maisie and Purves Smith were married in 1946, only three years before latter’s premature death from tuberculosis. Purves Smith painted this portrait at the start of their relationship. It depicts Maisie as a stylish woman wearing the latest fashion, the angularity of her features contrasted by the soft fur of her collar and feathers of her hat. Many years later Maisie married Drysdale.

 

Installation view of Sybil Craig's work 'Peggy' c. 1932

 

Installation view of Sybil Craig’s work Peggy c. 1932
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Sybil Craig (England 1901 - Australia 1909, Australia from 1902) 'Peggy' c. 1932

 

Sybil Craig (England 1901 – Australia 1909, Australia from 1902)
Peggy
c. 1932
Oil on canvas
40.4 x 30.4 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, 1978
© The Estate of Sybil Craig

 

Lina Bryans (Germany (of Australian parents) 1909-Australia 2000, Australia from 1910) 'The babe is wise' 1940

 

Lina Bryans (Germany (of Australian parents) 1909-Australia 2000, Australia from 1910)
The babe is wise
1940
Oil on cardboard
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Miss Jean Campbell, 1962

 

 

Lina Bryans’s portrait of author Jean Campbell is titled after Campbell’s 1939 novel The Babe is Wise, a contemporary story set in Melbourne and in which the main protagonists are European migrants. A well-known figure in Melbourne’s literary circles, Campbell was noted for her ‘quick and slightly audacious wit’. Bryans had begun painting in 1937 with the support of William Frater. In the late 1930s she lived at Darebin Bridge House, which became an informal artists’ colony and meeting place for writers associated with the journal Meanjin.

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40) 'Lucile' 1937

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40)
Lucile
1937
Oil on board
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
Purchased 2011 with funds raised through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Appeal

 

Nora Heysen (Australia 1911-2003, England and Italy 1934-37) 'Self-portrait' 1932

 

Nora Heysen (Australia 1911-2003, England and Italy 1934-37)
Self-portrait
1932
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Acquired with the assistance of the Masterpieces for the Nation Fund 2011

 

 

During the first decade of her life as a professional artist, Nora Heysen completed numerous self-portraits. In many of these she depicts herself in the act of drawing or painting, holding a palette and brush or with other accoutrements of the artist, and thereby asserting her professional identity. Yet these are also highly charged works in which Heysen scrutinises herself (and the viewer) with an unflinching and unsmiling gaze.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Arthur Challen’s Miss Moira Madden above chair
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Arthur Challen 'Miss Moira Madden' 1937

 

Arthur Challen
Miss Moira Madden
1937
oil on canvas
89.8 x 77.4 cm (framed)
State Library of Victoria
Gift of Mrs S. M. Challen, 1966
© The Estate of Arthur Challen

 

 

Body culture

The terrible physical losses and psychological traumas of the First World War changed Australian society and prompted anxious concerns about the direction of the nation. For some this meant an inward-looking isolationism, a desire that Australian culture should develop independently and untouched by the ‘degenerate’ influences of Europe.

The search for rejuvenation frequently involved explorations of the capabilities and vulnerabilities of the human body. In the hands of artists, corporeal forms came to symbolise nationhood, most often expressed through references to the art of Classical Greece and mythological subjects. The evolution of a new Australian ‘type’ was also proposed in the 1930s – a white Australian drawn from British stock, but with an athletic and streamlined shape honed by time spent swimming and surfing on local beaches.

This art often has a distinctive quality to it, which in the light of history can sometimes make for disquieting viewing. With the terrible knowledge of how the Nazi Party in Germany subsequently used eugenics in its systematic slaughter of those with so-called ‘bad blood’, the Australian enthusiasm for ‘body culture’ can now seem problematic. Images of muscular nationalism soon lost their cache in Australia following the Second World War, tainted by undesirable fascistic overtones.

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 - Australia 1974, Australia from 1904) 'Harvest' c. 1940

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 – Australia 1974, Australia from 1904)
Harvest
c. 1940
Gelatin silver photograph (25.6 x 30.5 cm)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gerstl Bequest, 2000

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 - Australia 1974, Australia from 1904) 'Husbandry 1' c. 1940

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 – Australia 1974, Australia from 1904)
Husbandry 1
c. 1940
Gelatin silver photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Gift of Iris Burke 1989

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Discus thrower' 1937, printed (c. 1939)

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Discus thrower
1937, printed (c. 1939)
Gelatin silver photograph
38.5 x 37.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2003

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Souvenir of Cronulla' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Souvenir of Cronulla
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of National Australia Bank Limited, Honorary Life Benefactor, 1992

 

 

In the 1930s Max Dupain responded to Henri Bergson’s book Creative Evolution (1907) in which he considered creativity and intuition as central to the renewed development of society, and the artist as prime possessor of these powers. Vitalism, as this philosophy was termed, was believed to be expressed through polarised sexual energies. In this work Dupain focuses on the sexually differentiated ‘energies’ of men and women, associating women with the forces of nature.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Daphne Mayo’s A young Australian in foreground
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Daphne Mayo (Australia 1895-1982, England 1919-23, France 1923-25) 'A young Australian' 1930, cast 1931

 

Daphne Mayo (Australia 1895-1982, England 1919-23, France 1923-25)
A young Australian
1930, cast 1931
Bronze, marble
(a-b) 51.0 x 35.2 x 18.1 cm (overall)
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney Purchased 1930
© 1982 by The Surf Life Saving Foundation and the Uniting Church in Australia Property Trust (Q.)

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Dorothy Thornhill’s Neo-classical nudes and Resting Diana at left; Tom Purvis’ Australia’s 150th Anniversary Celebrations (wall print) at centre rear; and Jean Broome-Norton’s Abundance on plinth at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Tom Purvis (England 1888-1959) 'Australia's 150th Anniversary Celebrations' c. 1938

 

Tom Purvis (England 1888-1959)
Australia’s 150th Anniversary Celebrations
c. 1938
Colour lithograph
Courtesy of Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney

 

Installation view of Dorothy Thornhill's 'Neo-classical nudes' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Dorothy Thornhill’s Neo-classical nudes from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Dorothy Thornhill (England 1910 - Australia 1987, New Zealand 1920-29, Australia from 1929) 'Resting Diana' 1931

 

Dorothy Thornhill (England 1910 – Australia 1987, New Zealand 1920-29, Australia from 1929)
Resting Diana
1931
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1977

 

 

The invocation of the Classical body as a modern prototype was a powerful idea in the 1930s. The Graeco- Roman goddess Diana, the virgin patron goddess of the hunt, was popularly invoked as an ideal of female perfection, and represented with a slender and athletic physique. Dorothy Thornhill’s Diana is a remarkable visualisation of such a ‘modern Diana’, her angular body and defined musculature reflecting the masculinisation of female bodies at this time. She is a formidable presence, the quiver of arrows slung nonchalantly across her shoulders a trophy of her victory over the male gender.

 

Jean Broome-Norton (Australia 1911-2002) 'Abundance' 1934

 

Jean Broome-Norton (Australia 1911-2002)
Abundance
1934
Plaster, bronze patination
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of ICI Australia Limited, Fellow, 1994

 

 

“High-rise buildings, fast trains and engineering feats such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge jostled against the Great Depression, conservatism and a looming Second World War during the 1930s, one of the most turbulent decades in Australian history. The major exhibition at the NGV, Brave New World: Australia 1930s, will explore the way artists and designers engaged with these major issues providing a fresh look at a period characterised by both optimism and despair. The exhibition will present a broad-ranging collection of more than 200 works spanning photography, painting, printmaking, sculpture and decorative arts as well as design, architecture, fashion, graphics, film and dance.

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV, commented, “Brave New World explores an important period of Australian art history during which Abstraction, Surrealism and Expressionism first emerged, and women artists arose as trailblazers of the modern art movement. It will offer an immersive look at the full spectrum of visual and creative culture of the period, from Max Dupain’s iconic depictions of the Australian body and beach culture to a vast display of nearly 40 Art Deco radios, which were an indispensable item for the Australian home during the 1930s.”

Presented thematically, Brave New World will show how artists and designers responded to major social and political concerns of the 1930s. The Great Depression, which saw Australia’s unemployment rate rise to 32% by 1932, is seen through the eyes of photographer F. Oswald Barnett in his powerful images of poverty-stricken inner Melbourne suburbs such as Fitzroy, Collingwood and Carlton, and in the works of Danila Vassilieff, Yosl Bergner, Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker who were among the first artists to depict Australia’s working class and destitute.

In contrast, many other artists at the time chose to focus upon the vibrant city streets, cafes and buildings of contemporary Australian cities, such as renowned modernist Grace Cossington Smith with her energetic canvasses of flat colours and abstracted forms. Other artists featured in Brave New World including Hilda Rix Nicholas and Elioth Gruner concentrated on more traditional scenes of the Australian bush, which was seen as a place of respite from the frenetic pace of modern city life.

The exhibition will explore artists’ responses to the growing calls for Indigenous rights during the 1930s, which was accompanied by a rising interest in Aboriginal art and particularly the work of Albert Namatjira, the first Indigenous artist of renown in Australia; and the rise of the ‘modern woman’, a female who favoured urban living, freedom and equality over marriage and child rearing.

The 1930s also saw the idea of the ‘Australian body’, a tanned, muscular archetype shaped by sand and surf, come to the fore of the Australian identity. Artists who engaged with this idea, including Max Dupain, Charles Meere and Olive Cotton, will be presented in Brave New World. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated, 212-page hardback publication, featuring essays by leading writers on each of the exhibition themes. A series of public programs will also be offered including a major symposium, an Art Deco walking tour of Melbourne and a dance performance, recreating Demon machine (1924) by the Bodenweiser company that toured Australia in the late 1930s as well as an original solo by the choreographer, Carol Brown (NZ).

Press release from the NGV

 

Nanette Kuehn (Germany 1911-Australia 1980, Australia from 1937) 'Borislav Runanine and Tamara Grigorieva in Jeux D'Enfants, original Ballets Russes, Australian tour' 1939-40

 

Nanette Kuehn (Germany 1911-Australia 1980, Australia from 1937)
Borislav Runanine and Tamara Grigorieva in Jeux D’Enfants, original Ballets Russes, Australian tour
1939-40
Gelatin silver photograph
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne
The Australian Ballet Collection. Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998

 

 

The expressive body: dance in Australia

If modern art encapsulated the ideals and conflicting forces of the early twentieth century, then modern dance embodied its restless vitality and the quest for a different kind of subjectivity and expression. To many, modern dance is the pivotal art form for a mid twentieth century concerned with plasticity, the expressive body and tensions between the individual and its collective formation.

The decade of the 1930s is framed by the 1928-29 tour of Anna Pavlova’s dance company and the three tours of the remnant Ballets Russes companies (1936-37, 1938-39,1939-40) that excited many aspiring modernist artists. These tours sowed the seeds for subsequent ballet narratives in Australia, because the eruption of war in 1939 meant that Ballets Russes dancers, including Helene Kirsova and Edouard Borovansky, stayed in the country and established ballet companies. While trained in Russian dance technique, these artists were also influenced by the aesthetics of change in European art and dance that included new bodily techniques, dynamic movement patterns and modern technologies. It was the individual dancers of modern dance, however, including Louise Lightfoot and Sonia Revid, who produced the expressive intensity of a more autonomous art of movement.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA featuring a wall print of Sonia Revid dancing on Brighton beach c. 1935 by an unknown Australian photographer
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Australia, Unknown photographer. 'Sonia Revid dancing on Brighton beach' c. 1935

 

Australia, Unknown photographer
Sonia Revid dancing on Brighton beach
c. 1935
Courtesy of State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Sonia Revid was one of the leading proponents of modern interpretative dance in Melbourne. Born in Latvia, she studied with the great dancer Mary Wigman in Germany before coming to Australia in 1932. Revid is credited with introducing the ‘German Dance’ to Australian audiences, and in the mid 1930s established the Sonia Revid School of Art and Body Culture in Collins Street. She composed her own dances, one of the best known being Bushfire drama (1940), based on the 1939 Victoria Bushfires.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Ballet (Emmy Towsey and Evelyn Ippen, Bodenwieser Dancers performing Waterlilies)' 1937, printed (c. 1939)

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Ballet (Emmy Towsey and Evelyn Ippen, Bodenwieser Dancers performing Waterlilies)
1937, printed (c. 1939)
Gelatin silver photograph
44.5 x 33.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2003

 

Jack Cato (Australia 1889-1971, England 1909-14, South Africa 1914-20) 'Helene Kirsova and Igor Youskevitch in Les Presages, Monte Carlo Russian Ballet' 1936-37

 

Jack Cato (Australia 1889-1971, England 1909-14, South Africa 1914-20)
Helene Kirsova and Igor Youskevitch in Les Presages, Monte Carlo Russian Ballet
1936-37
Gelatin silver photograph
24.8 x 19.4 cm
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne
The Australian Ballet Collection
Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998

 

 

Choreographed by Léonide Massine in 1933, Les Presages (Destiny) was a popular and avant-garde work during the Ballets Russes tours to Australia in 1936-37. It was one of the first contemporary ballets to be choreographed to an existing musical score, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. Portrayed in this picture are two principal dancers from the Monte Carlo Ballets Russes: Hélène Kirsova, who remained in Australia and formed her own ballet company in Sydney in the early 1940s, and Igor Youskevitch, who became a leading American ballet dancer, appearing here in the role of the Hero.

 

Evelyn Ippen designer and maker active in Australia 1930s 'Dress for Slavonic Dances' 1939

 

Evelyn Ippen designer and maker active in Australia 1930s
Dress for Slavonic Dances
1939
Cotton, silk (velvet) (appliqué), elastic, metal (zip) for a production of the Bodenwieser Ballet, choreographed by Gertrud Bodenwieser
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne
Bodenwieser Collection. Gift of Barbara Cuckson, 2000

 

 

The Slavonic Dances were choreographed by Gertrud Bodenwieser to represent what she described as the ‘vigour and passionate feelings of the Slavonic people’, and toured with her first company in Australia in 1939. Loosely using folk-dance motifs, this ensemble work would have been a stylish crowd-pleaser in contrast to more serious dances. The appliqué and colourful flower motifs on this dress are similar to designs by Natalia Goncharova for the Ballets Russes, although the simplified appeal of its ‘red bodice, long, swirling skirt, and gathered white sleeves’ were probably designed by one of the company dancers, Evelyn Ippen.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Tamara Tchinarova in Presages' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Tamara Tchinarova in Presages
Published in Art in Australia, February 15, 1937
National Gallery of Victoria
Melbourne Shaw Research Library

 

 

Australia Tunes Into The World

These radios comprise a selection of Australian designed and manufactured tabletop models from the 1930s at a time when this new method of communication became an integral part of every home. They reflect the rapid spread of the streamlined style to Australia from the United States, England and Europe, where industrial designers applied machine-age styling to everyday household appliances. The use of new synthetic plastics (Bakelite) and mass production helped to make radios affordable for ordinary people, even in the depths of the Depression, and radio transmission brought the world into every Australian home. As cheap alternatives to the expensive wooden console in the lounge room, these small, portable radios allowed individual family members to listen to serials, quizzes and popular music in other rooms such as the kitchen, bedroom and verandah, as well as in the workplace.

Radios of the 1930s are now appreciated as quintessential examples of Art Deco styling, and one of the first expressions of art meeting industry. These colourful and elegant radio sets were one of the first pieces of modern styling in the Australian home. They were also a symbol of modern technology and a new future.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Australian Art Deco radios from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer) 'Mullard' 1938

 

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer)
Mullard (white)
1938
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer)
Mullard (speckled green)
1938
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer)
Mullard (black)
1938
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch
Photo © Peter Sheridan

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913 'AWA 'Egg crate' (various colours)' 1938

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913
AWA ‘Egg crate’ (various colours)
1938
Bakelite
21.0 x 33.0 x 19.0 cm (each)
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch
Photo © Peter Sheridan

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913 'AWA Radiolette 'Empire State' and cigarette box (green)' 1934

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913
AWA Radiolette ‘Empire State’ and cigarette box (green)
1934
Bakelite
(a) 28.0 x 27.0 x 15.0 cm (radio) (b) 8.0 x 8.0 x 4.5 cm (cigarette box)
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch
Photo © Peter Sheridan

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of Australian Art Deco radios from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

 

Sun and surf

The beach was a complex location in the Australian creative imagination. It was a democratic site in which the trappings of wealth and position were abandoned as people stripped down to their bathers. It was a place of hedonistic pleasures that offered sensuous engagement with sun and surf, and a primitive landscape where natural forces restored the bodies of those depleted by modern life. It was a playground for the tourist that was considered distinctively Australian. As war loomed again in the late 1930s, it was also a pseudo-militaristic zone in which the lifesaver was honed for ‘battle’ in the surf.

The lifesavers that helped protect the beach-going public were regularly praised as physical exemplars who could build the eugenic stock of the nation. As the Second World War approached, the connection of these trained lifesavers to military servicemen also became painfully apparent.

Male lifesavers were used by artists in promoting Australia to tourists: a poster commemorating the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932 positioned the lifesaver as the quintessential representative of Australian manhood. Douglas Annand and Arthur Whitmore’s virile lifesaver proudly gestures towards the new bridge, his muscles as strong and protective as the steel girders that span the harbour.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'On the beach. Man, woman, boy' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
On the beach. Man, woman, boy
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
39.2 x 47.2 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

Showing a naked family on the beach, Max Dupain’s work is a perfect illustration of social concerns of the times. As Australia moved closer to engagement in another world war, fears about the poor physical fitness of the population were debated, with a ‘national fitness’ campaign instituted by the government in 1938. Dupain’s father, George, was one of the country’s first physical educationalists, opening the Dupain Institute of Physical Education and Medical Gymnastics in 1900 and writing extensively on the subject of health and fitness. Max Dupain attended the gym and was well versed in contemporary concerns about fitness.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of 'Male lifesaver, window' and 'Female lifesaver, window' (both c. 1935)

 

Installation view of Male lifesaver, window and Female lifesaver, window (both c. 1935) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Unknown, Melbourne. 'Male lifesaver, window' c. 1935

 

Unknown, Melbourne
Male lifesaver, window
c. 1935
Stained glass, lead
47.5 x 40.8 cm
Williamstown Swimming and Life Saving Club, Williamstown
Donated by C. J Dennis

 

 

‘On golden and milky sands, bodily excellence is displayed the year round, clearly defined by the sun in an atmosphere as viewless and benign as the air of Hellas as described by Euripides.’

J. S. Macdonald, 1931

 

Unknown, Melbourne. 'Female lifesaver, window' c. 1935

 

Unknown, Melbourne
Female lifesaver, window
c. 1935
Stained glass, lead
47.0 x 40.9 cm
Williamstown Swimming and Life Saving Club, Williamstown
Donated by Councillor R. T. Bell

 

 

Although much was made of the ‘gods of the golden sand’, as one poet glowingly described lifesavers, lifesaving clubs were not entirely male in membership. Women lifesavers also made their mark, albeit in more limited numbers and with much less recognition. At the Williamstown Lifesaving Club in Melbourne a woman lifesaver was included in this fine and very rare stained glass window that, along with its counterpart featuring a male lifesaver, graced the newly established clubhouse around 1935.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with the male and female lifesavers (centre); Max Dupain’s The carnival at Bondi (fourth from right); Sydney Bridge celebrations (second right); and Douglas Annand and Max Dupain’s Australia (right)
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Sunbaker
(1938), dated 1937, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
38.0 x 43.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with the assistance of the Visual Arts Board, 1976

 

 

Taken on a camping trip near Culburra, on the Shoalhaven River in New South Wales, in January 1938, Max Dupain’s original version of the Sunbaker was a much darker image that existed at the time only in an album gifted to his friend Chris Van Dyke. Dupain lost the original negative and printed this variant version in 1975 for an exhibition. It is an image that is now considered an icon in Australian photography, and has come to represent key values of the interest in ‘body culture’, celebrating health and fitness in the context of the beach.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'The carnival at Bondi' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
The carnival at Bondi
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

‘The lifesaving teams … are splendid examples of the physique, resourcefulness and vitality of our youth and manhood. They are typical of the outdoor life which Australians lead and they are living testimonies to the value of surfing and the vigor and stamina of our race.’

DAILY EXAMINER, July 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Manly' 1938, printed c. 1986

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Manly
1938, printed c. 1986
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from funds donated by Hallmark Cards Australia Pty Ltd, 1987

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926) 'The seaside calls - go by train - take a Kodak' 1930s

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926)
The seaside calls – go by train – take a Kodak
1930s
Colour lithograph
Printed by F. W. Niven, Melbourne
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Grant Lee

 

 

Gert Sellheim was born to German parents in Estonia, at that time part of the Russian Empire. After studying architecture in Europe he travelled to Western Australia in 1926, before settling in Melbourne in 1931, where he began working as an industrial and commercial designer. Working for the Australian National Travel Association, Sellheim created a series of posters promoting beach holidays, which incorporated Art Deco motifs and typography. His most famous design is the flying kangaroo logo for Qantas, which he created in 1947.

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76) Arthur Whitmore (Australia 1910-65) 'Sydney Bridge celebrations' 1932

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76)
Arthur Whitmore (Australia 1910-65)
Sydney Bridge celebrations
1932
Colour lithograph
47.6 x 63.6 cm (image and sheet)
Australian National Maritime Museum Purchased, 1991
© Courtesy of the artist’s estate

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76) Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Australia' c. 1937

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76)
Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Australia
c. 1937
Colour and process lithograph
105.3 x 68.4 cm (image and sheet)
Australian National Maritime Museum Purchased, 1991
© Courtesy of the artist’s estate

 

Douglas Annand (attributed to) (Australia 1903-76) 'Follow the sun - Australia's 150th Anniversary celebrations' 1938

 

Douglas Annand (attributed to) (Australia 1903-76)
Follow the sun – Australia’s 150th Anniversary celebrations
1938
Colour lithograph and photolithograph
Courtesy of Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney

 

 

The 1930s were the heyday of the travel poster. Posters were commissioned by railway and tourism groups or shipping companies and airlines to promote Australian holiday destinations, both at home and overseas. The Australian National Travel Association was formed in 1929 to promote Australia to overseas markets. As part of its strategy it commissioned posters from leading graphic artists, such as Percy Trompf, James Northfield and Douglas Annand. From the late 1920s Australia began to actively promote itself to the world by using the beach, sun and surf as motifs.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with the work of John Rowell, Hilda Rix Nicholas, Gert Sellheim and Percy Trompf on the far wall, and Robert E. Coates Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World’s Fair (1939) on the projector screen at left
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

 

The Australian Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair projected an image of Australia as a young and healthy nation, a place of industry, sport and tourism. Designed by John Oldham of Sydney architectural firm Stephenson & Turner, the modern design of the building was complemented by Douglas Annand’s interior displays featuring the latest graphic design, and audio-visual and photomontage techniques. These photographs of the Australian Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair were taken by commercial photographer Robert E. Coates.

 

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

 

Installation views of Robert E. Coates’ Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World’s Fair (1939) (digital images, looped)

 

 

Pastoral landscapes

Along with the beach, another national myth evolved around the Australian bush. Although most Australians lived in cities, in the years following the First World War the nation became increasingly informed by a mythology centred on the bush and the landscape. For those who considered the modern city a profoundly depleting force, the bush was a touchstone of traditional ‘values’. It was nostalgically conceived of as an idyllic natural realm whose soil, literally and metaphorically, sustained its people. Both the classical Pastoral ideal of a land in which only sheep and cattle roam, and the Georgic tradition, which celebrated the achievements of agriculture, became dominant themes in landscape art.

Pastoral landscapes were admired above all as representing the antithesis of ‘decadent’ modern life. As art critic and gallery director J. S. Macdonald wrote, such art would ‘point the way in which life should be lived in Australia, with the maximum of flocks and the minimum of factories’. With their emphasis on farming and pastoral industries, such works affirmed white landownership, with Indigenous people largely absent.

 

John Rowell (Australia 1894-1973) 'Blue hills' c. 1936

 

John Rowell (Australia 1894-1973)
Blue hills
c. 1936
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1936

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926) 'Spring in the Grampians' 1930s

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926)
Spring in the Grampians
1930s
Colour photolithograph
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased 2000

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18) 'The fair musterer' c. 1935

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18)
The fair musterer
c. 1935
Oil on canvas
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
Purchased 1971

 

 

As a young artist Hilda Rix Nicholas had a successful career in France before returning to Australia after the First World War. In 1934, several years after the birth of her son, Rix Nicholas returned to painting and depicted her new life living on the family property Knockalong, on the Monaro Plains in New South Wales. Depicting the governess of her young son holding the reins of her horse, dog at her feet, and sheep in the distance, in The fair musterer Rix Nicholas claims for women an active role in the masculine world of pastoral Australia.

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18) 'The shepherd of Knockalong' 1933

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18)
The shepherd of Knockalong
1933
Oil on canvas
Collection of Peter Rix, Sydney
Courtesy of Deutscher & Hackett

 

 

Depicting the artist’s husband and young son, The shepherd of Knockalong is a reminder of the traditional importance of the wool industry to the nation’s economy. With his legs firmly connected to the ground and pictured as a large figure dominating the landscape setting, the farmer is the benign owner and ‘shepherd’ of the land spreading out behind him, the presence of his young son ensuring dynastic succession. At a time when Aboriginal people were confined to reservations and denied citizenship, Hilda Rix Nicholas’s painting can also be considered as an assertion of the British colonisers’ right to ownership of Australia.

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64) 'Western Australia' c. 1936

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64)
Western Australia
c. 1936
Colour lithograph
Courtesy of Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Indigenous art and culture

During the 1930s Aboriginal people were often pejoratively referred to as a ‘dying race’. The Australian Government continued to enforce a ‘divide and rule’ assimilationist policy. Determined by eugenics, this entailed removing Aboriginal people of mixed descent from their families and reserves, and absorbing them into the dominant society, with consequent loss of their own language and customary ritual practices. Increasingly during this period, Aboriginal people formed their own organisations and agitated for full citizenship rights.

This was also a decade that saw increasing awareness of, and interest in, Indigenous art. Albert Namatjira astonished Melbourne audiences at his first solo exhibition at the Athenaeum Gallery in 1938. Comprising forty-one watercolour paintings, all of his works sold within three days of the opening. The following year the Art Gallery of South Australia purchased one of Namatjira’s works. Indigenous art also inspired non-Indigenous artists, including Margaret Preston and Frances Derham who appropriated design elements in their works. The idea of ‘Aboriginalism’, in which settlers sought an Australian identity in the context of Britishness and the Empire, saw artists travelling to the outback to paint and sketch subjects they believed connected them to Indigenous history.

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894–1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08) Kangaroo and 'Aboriginal motifs' 1925-1940

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894–1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08)
Kangaroo and Aboriginal motifs
1925-1940
Linocut printed in brown ink on buff paper
4.6 x 7.3 cm (image) 12.6 x 10.3 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Richard Hodgson Derham, 1988
© Estate of Frances Derham

 

 

Best known as a progressive educator and advocate of children’s art, Frances Derham was also an active member of the Arts and Crafts Society of Victoria, and with potter Allan Lowe shared Margaret Preston’s interest in the appropriation of Indigenous art. From the mid 1920s Derham began to incorporate Aboriginal motifs into her linocuts and in 1929, synchronous with the exhibition Australian Aboriginal Art at the Museum of Victoria, Derham presented a lecture to the Arts and Crafts Society, entitled ‘The Interest of Aboriginal Art to the Modern Designer’.

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08) 'Kangaroo (at the zoo)' c. 1931

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08)
Kangaroo (at the zoo)
c. 1931
Linocut printed in brown ink on Chinese paper
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Richard Hodgson Derham, 1988

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08) 'The Aboriginal artist' 1931

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08)
The Aboriginal artist
1931
Colour linocut on Japanese paper
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Richard Hodgson Derham, 1988

 

 

Margaret Preston (Australia 1875-1963, Germany and France 1904-07, France, England and Ireland 1912-19) 'Shoalhaven Gorge, New South Wales' 1940-1941

 

Margaret Preston (Australia 1875-1963, Germany and France 1904-07, France, England and Ireland 1912-19)
Shoalhaven Gorge, New South Wales
1940-1941
Oil and gouache on canvas
53.7 x 45.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated from the Estate of Dr Donald Wright, 2008
© Margaret Preston/Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia

 

 

During the 1920s Margaret Preston considered Aboriginal art a source of good design in the decoration of household items. In the 1930s her study of Aboriginal culture intensified, as she developed a greater interest in its anthropological and cosmological elements. In 1940 Preston travelled to the Northern Territory to study Aboriginal art. On her return she developed a more explicit Aboriginal style in paintings featuring earthy tones, strong black outlines and patterns of dots and lines.

 

Unknown Walamangu active (1930s) 'Dhukurra dhaawu (Sacred clan story)' c. 1935

 

Unknown
Walamangu active (1930s)
Dhukurra dhaawu (Sacred clan story)
c. 1935
Earth pigments on Stringybark (Eucalyptus sp.), resin
128.3 x 63.9 cm
The Donald Thomson Collection
Donated by Mrs Dorita Thomson to the University of Melbourne and on loan to Museums Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, segregation was the main government policy regarding Aboriginal people. It was re-enforced by the 1909 Aborigines Protection Act, which gave the Aborigines Protection Board the power to control where Aboriginal people lived in New South Wales. In 1937 the Commonwealth Government adopted a policy of assimilation, whereby Aboriginal people of mixed descent were henceforth to be assimilated into white society, while others were confined to reserves. In 1931 Arnhem Land was declared an Aboriginal Reserve by the government and non-Indigenous entry into the region was restricted.

 

Tjam Yilkari Katani Liyagalawumirr active 1930s 'Wagilag dhaawu (Wagilag Sisters story)' 1937

 

Tjam Yilkari Katani
Liyagalawumirr active 1930s
Wagilag dhaawu (Wagilag Sisters story) (installation view)
1937
Earth pigments on Stringybark (Eucalyptus sp.)
The Donald Thomson Collection Donated by Mrs Dorita Thomson to the University of Melbourne and on loan to Museums Victoria, Melbourne
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

For Yolgnu people, painting on bark or objects is intimately connected with painting on the body, and the Yolgnu term barrawan means both ‘skin’ and ‘bark’. These paintings are transcriptions of the sacred designs that were painted onto men’s bodies and convey the power of the Yolgnu ancestors whose actions created their world. The Wagilag Sisters Dreaming story chronicles the creative acts of the sisters as they travelled across Arnhem Land. Such stories pass on important knowledge, cultural values and belief systems to later generations.

 

Arthur Murch (Australia 1902-89, Europe 1936-40) 'Walila, Pintupi tribe' 1934

 

Arthur Murch (Australia 1902-89, Europe 1936-40)
Walila, Pintupi tribe
1934
Pencil
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1934

 

 

In 1933, on the invitation of Professor H. Whitridge Davies, Sydney artist Arthur Murch accompanied a research team from Sydney University to Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission, south-west of Alice Springs. Murch remained there for six weeks painting the landscapes and making portraits of Indigenous people. These were exhibited in Sydney soon after his return.

 

Percy Leason (Australia 1888-United States 1959, United States from 1938) 'Thomas Foster' (installation view) 1934

 

Percy Leason (Australia 1888-United States 1959, United States from 1938)
Thomas Foster (installation view)
1934
Oil on canvas
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Isabelle Leason, 1969
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Thomas Foster was born at Coranderrk Station in 1882, the son of Edward Foster and Betsy Benfield. Foster’s was one of the last portraits painted by Leason as part of the unfortunately titled exhibition The Last of the Victorian Aborigines. These portraits were debuted on 11 September at the Athenaeum Gallery in Collins Street, Melbourne, to great public acclaim. Foster, like most of Leason’s subjects, appears shirtless, his arms folded behind his back, pushing forward his chest and clearly showing his scarification marks.

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926) 'Corroboree Australia' 1934

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926)
Corroboree Australia
1934
Colour lithograph printed by F. W. Niven, Melbourne
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of the Australian National Travel Association, 1934

 

 

Dystopian cities

Australia was hit hard by the Great Depression. The worst year was 1932, when unemployment reached nearly thirty-two per cent, and by the following year almost a third of all unemployed men had been without work for three years. With wages cut and unemployment rising, many families were left struggling to survive and this poverty was most evident in run-down, inner-city areas. Two émigrés, Danila Vassilieff and Yosl Bergner, were the first Australian artists to turn their attention to the plight of the urban poor and the disposed. Their powerful, expressive style was influential upon young artists, including Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker.

Economic hardship fostered bitterness and political unrest, and membership of radical groups on both the left and right increased. Boundaries between political agendas and art production became porous in this decade, and many artists believed, like Bergner, ‘that by painting we would change the world’. The complex enmeshment of the creative and political became a defining feature of the decade, and art in Australia became increasingly political, with the political realm involving itself with art.

By the end of the decade the worsening political situation overseas and a sense that another world war was inevitable contributed to a growing sense of unease. Many artists expressed this anxiety and foreboding in their works.

 

Laurence Le Guay (Australia 1917-90) 'No title (War montage with globe)' c. 1939

 

Laurence Le Guay (Australia 1917-90)
No title (War montage with globe)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver photograph
30.4 x 24.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of Mrs Mem Kirby, Fellow, 2001

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Hot rhythm!' 1936

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Hot rhythm!
1936
Silver gelatin photograph
24.7 x 17.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
William Kimpton Bequest, 2016

 

 

In this work, Max Dupain has the shadow of a slide trombone seemingly bisect the naked body of a woman in a photograph that, in the context of his known views, is less an erotic celebration of modern jazz culture and nightlife than a comment on the disruptive nature of modernity.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Doom of youth' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Doom of youth
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

In Doom of youth – a title taken from Wyndham Lewis’s 1932 polemical book of the same name – Max Dupain creates an allegorical photograph in which a naked male body represents his vision of modern Australia. Using symbols that suggest disempowerment, Dupain implies that the flywheel of mechanisation has doomed youth (the representatives of a nation’s future) to a bleak fate.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Night with her train of stars and her gift of sleep' 1936-37

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Night with her train of stars and her gift of sleep
1936-37
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
William Kimpton Bequest, 2016

 

 

Referring to Edward Hughes’s 1912 Symbolist work of the same name, Max Dupain has replaced the painter’s dark-winged goddess of the night, who tries to calm the putti (or ‘stars’) that cling to her, with an updated modern version in which city lights replace starlight. The symbolism of the giant breast that towers over the electric lights of the urban landscape suggests an inversion of the natural for the man-made. The personification of night refers to the Greek goddess Nyx, a powerful force born of Chaos, and the mother of children including Sleep, Death and Pain. Given his often gloomy assessment of modernity, Dupain’s invocation of Nyx seems appropriate in the context.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Herbert Badham’s Paint and morning tea second left and Albert Tucker’s Self-portrait third from right
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Herbert Badham (Australia 1899-1961) 'Paint and morning tea' 1937

 

Herbert Badham (Australia 1899-1961)
Paint and morning tea
1937
Oil on cardboard
75.6 x 71.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1937
© The Estate of Herbert Badham

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Albert Tucker’s Self-portrait (1937) at left
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of Albert Tucker's 'Self-portrait' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Albert Tucker’s Self-portrait (1937) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In the late 1930s Albert Tucker’s contact with émigré artists Yosl Bergner and Danila Vassilieff was to provide important encouragement for him to pursue his artistic vocation and to make art that was responsive to the issues of his time. In 1938 Tucker was a founding member of the Contemporary Art Society, and he became one of the most articulate voices in the often bitter debates between modernists and conservatives. In the 1940s, together with his partner Joy Hester, Tucker was a key member of the group of artists and writers that formed around John and Sunday Reed at Heide.

From 1936 until the early 1940s Albert Tucker chronicled himself with numerous painted and drawn self-portraits. In these works we witness a harrowing disintegration of his physical self, which mirrored the artist’s overwrought emotional state. He recalled: ‘It was a period when the whole world, and all the people I knew, seemed to be seething with ideas and energies and experiences; and my own mind was a seething mess … The highly emotional, overwrought expressionist paintings suited my state at the time’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with work by Danila Vassilieff on the centre black wall including Street scene with graffiti (left), Truth, Woolloomooloo (second left) and Young girl (Shirley) the large painting at right; and F. Oswald Barnett’s photographs of Melbourne slums in the display cabinet
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34) 'Street scene with graffiti' 1938

 

Installation view of Danila Vassilieff ‘s Street scene with graffiti (1938) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34) 'Truth, Woolloomooloo' 1936

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34)
Truth, Woolloomooloo
1936
Oil on canvas
Private collection

 

 

It is notable that the first artists to depict the poverty of inner-city slums were two recently arrived émigrés, Danila Vassilieff and Yosl Bergner. Russian-born Vassilieff, who had fought with the white Russian army, first arrived in Australia in 1923 before leaving again in 1929. On his return in 1935 he painted a series of dark streetscapes, depicting the inner suburban areas of Woolloomooloo and Surry Hills in Sydney. Moving to Melbourne, Vassilieff’s expressionist style influenced many young artists, including Lina Bryans, Albert Tucker, Arthur Boyd and Sidney Nolan.

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34) 'Young girl (Shirley)' 1937

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34)
Young girl (Shirley)
1937
Oil on canvas on composition board
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
National Gallery Society of Victoria Century Fund, 1984

 

F. Oswald Barnett. 'Fitzroy. View from the Brotherhood of St Lawrence'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'Fitzroy. Rear view of house'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'North Melbourne. Group of children in Erskine Place'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'West Melbourne. A Dudley Mansion'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'Carlton. Wash-house and bath-room 48 Palmerston Street'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'North Melbourne. No. 19 Byron Street'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'West Melbourne rubbish tip'

 

F. Oswald Barnett (Australia 1883–1972)

Fitzroy. View from the Brotherhood of St Lawrence
Fitzroy. Rear view of house
North Melbourne. Group of children in Erskine Place
West Melbourne. A Dudley Mansion
Carlton. Wash-house and bath-room, 48 Palmerston Street
North Melbourne. No. 19 Byron Street
West Melbourne rubbish tip

c. 1930-c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph and typewriting on card
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
F. Oswald Barnett Collection
Gift of Department of Human Services, Victoria 2001

 

 

One of the most visible and lasting effects of the Great Depression was the housing crisis in the poor working class areas of Melbourne and Sydney. Many of the nineteenth-century houses had fallen into disrepair, overcrowding was endemic and a great number of families lived in squalid and unhealthy conditions. Throughout the decade ‘slum’ abolition movements in Melbourne and Sydney ran public campaigns to place public housing on the political agenda, leading to the creation of the first state Housing Commissions.

In Melbourne, Methodist layman F. Oswald Barnett led a campaign calling for slum demolition and the rehousing of residents in government-financed housing. He took hundreds of photographs that were used in public lectures and to illustrate the 1937 report of the Housing Investigation and Slum Abolition Board. This led to the creation of the Housing Commission of Victoria in 1938, with its first major project being the Garden City estate at Fishermans Bend. In Sydney a similar campaign led to the Housing Improvement Act of 1936 and the construction of the first fifty-six home units at Erskineville. (NGV)

The photographs in the F. Oswald Barnett Collection were taken by Barnett and other unidentified photographers in the 1930s. Many of them were used to illustrate a government report on slum housing and/or made into lantern slides for lectures in a public campaign.  F. Oswald Barnett was born in Brunswick, Victoria. A committed Methodist and housing reformer, he led a crusade against Melbourne’s inner city slums. In 1936 he was appointed to the Slum Abolition Board and from 1938-1948 he was the vice-chair of the Housing Commission. In this position he attempted to shape compassionate public housing policy. He later protested vigorously against proposed high-rise housing (Monash Biographical Dictionary of 20th century Australia).

 

 

Scenes from Melbourne during the depression (extract)
c. 1935
Black and white film transferred to media player
1 min. 51 sec. silent (looped)
Courtesy of National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, Canberra

 

 

While there is an abundance of newspaper and documentary photographs which document the 1930s shanty towns, slums, relief and charity works, there is very little moving image recordings available. Instead, the moving image medium at the time was primarily focused on providing entertainment that would allow the audience temporary relief from the Depression. This rare footage depicts slum areas of inner Melbourne, and provides great insight into the horrible living conditions that many Australian families experienced.

 

Ola Cohn (Australia 1892-1964, England 1926-30) 'The sundowner' 1932

 

Ola Cohn (Australia 1892-1964, England 1926-30)
The sundowner
1932
Painted plaster
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Jack and Zena Cohn, 2016

 

 

Ola Cohn studied sculpture with Henry Moore at the Royal College of Art in London in the 1920s. She returned to Melbourne in 1930, where the following year her solo exhibition established her as a leading proponent of modern sculpture. During the Depression the sight of ‘swagmen’ or ‘sundowners’ became commonplace as unemployed men travelled across the country in order to find work. In 1932 Cohn submitted this maquette of a sundowner to a competition for a full-scale sculpture to be erected in Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne: unsurprisingly it was not chosen as the winning entry.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Bernard Smith’s The advance of Lot and his Brethren at centre and Albert Tucker’s The futile city at right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of Bernard Smith's 'The advance of Lot and his Brethren' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Bernard Smith’s The advance of Lot and his Brethren from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bernard Smith (Australia 1916-2011, England and Europe 1948-51) 'The advance of Lot and his Brethren' 1940

 

Bernard Smith (Australia 1916-2011, England and Europe 1948-51)
The advance of Lot and his Brethren
1940
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist, 2008

 

 

In the early 1930s, artists depicted the city as a modern utopia, a place of triumphant progress and aspiration later in the decades, a new radical iconography of the city as a place of moral decay and corruption appeared. Painted at the start of the Second World War, Lot and his brethren expresses Bernard Smith’s despair at the conflagration that the world had been plunged into. Based on the biblical story of Lot, who fled from God’s destruction of Sodom, Smith depicts Karl Marx as the saviour who leads his people from the burning city.

 

Albert Tucker (Australia 1914-99, Europe and United States 1947-60) 'The futile city' 1940

 

Albert Tucker (Australia 1914-99, Europe and United States 1947-60)
The futile city
1940
Oil on cardboard
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Bulleen, Melbourne
Purchased from John and Sunday Reed, 1980

 

 

At the start of the Second World War Surrealism was an important influence upon Albert Tucker, as were the writings of T. S. Eliot. The futile city was inspired by Eliot’s epic poem The Waste Land (1922): ‘I came on T. S. Eliot, and instantly I recognised a twin soul because here was horror, outrage, despair, futility, and all the images that went with them. He confirmed my own feelings and also became a source … because of the images that would involuntarily form while I was reading the poetry’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Yosl Bergner’s Citizen (c. 1940) at left
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of Yosl Bergner's 'Citizen' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Yosl Bergner’s Citizen (c. 1940) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Yosl Bergner was one of approximately 7000-8000 Jewish people, mainly from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, who arrived in Australia between 1933 and 1939 fleeing Nazi persecution. This number included many artists, musicians, architects, writers and intellectuals who were to contribute greatly to Australia’s cultural life. However, government policy remained opposed to large-scale intake of Jewish refugees, and some were met with anti-Semitic sentiments upon their arrival.

 

Yvonne Atkinson (Australia 1918-99) 'The tram stop' 1937

 

Installation view of Yvonne Atkinson The tram stop (1937) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Brave New World' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Brave New World
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
29.0 x 20.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
William Kimpton Bequest, 2017

 

 

In 1935 Max Dupain referred to Aldous Huxley’s book Brave New World (1932) in his photograph of a woman trapped by technology. Dupain was attracted to this biting satire on the ethical dilemmas of social engineering because it appeared to endorse his own fervently held ideas of how modernity was affecting the individual and national body. At the time his choice to directly reference this book was surprisingly provocative: Brave New World had been banned by the Australian customs department, with existing copies rounded up and burned. Dupain returned again to the theme in 1938, producing this variant version.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Brave New World (wall print) at centre rear with Sideboard and Chest of drawers at right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Sideboard and Chest of drawers from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

Unknown, Australia
Sideboard
1920s-40s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

Unknown, Australia
Chest of drawers
1920s-40s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

Unknown, Australia. 'Sideboard' 1920s-40s

 

Unknown, Australia
Sideboard
1920s-40s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

Unknown, Australia. 'Chest of drawers' 1920s-40s

 

Unknown, Australia
Chest of drawers
1920s-40s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

 

Working-class people were the most affected by the high levels of unemployment during the Depression. By 1932 more than 60,000 men, women and children were dependent on the susso, a state-based sustenance payment that enabled families to buy only the bare minimum of food. Many families unable to pay their rent were evicted from their homes. For those suffering economic hardship, ‘making do’ became a way of life, and furniture would be constructed from found items such as kerosene tins and packing crates.

 

J. M. Harcourt (writer) John Long (publisher) 'Upsurge' 1934

 

J. M. Harcourt (writer)
John Long (publisher)
Upsurge
1934
London, March 1934
State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Censorship of books was vigorously pursued by federal and state governments during the 1930s. Australia was one of only two countries in the world to ban Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World when it was first published in 1932. Australian author J. M. Harcourt’s novel Upsurge (1934) was the first book to be banned following a recommendation by the newly established Book Censorship Board in 1934. Portraying the lives of Western Australia’s working class during the Depression, it was described by one customs official as ‘thinly disguised propaganda on behalf of Communism and social revolution’.

 

Activism

During the 1930s a small number of artists became active in the militant working-class struggle through their involvement in social and cultural organisations affiliated with the Communist Party, such as the Friends of the Soviet Union, the Workers’ Art Club and the Workers’ Theatre Group, which were formed in Sydney, Melbourne and other metropolitan centres. A number of these artists were also involved with a variety of mostly short-lived radical magazines, helping with their production, as well as providing covers and illustrations. Linocuts were a preferred medium for these artists, as the materials were inexpensive and the images reproduced well.

 

Jack Maughan illustrator (Australia 1897-1980) 'Masses' 1932

 

Jack Maughan illustrator (Australia 1897-1980)
Masses
Cover illustration for Masses, vol. 1, no. 1, printed by Bright Printing Services, published by the Workers’ Art Club, Melbourne, November 1932
1932
Linocut printed in red and black ink
State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Herbert McClintock's cover illustration for 'Strife', vol. 1, no. 1

 

Installation view of Herbert McClintock’s cover illustration for Strife, vol. 1, no. 1 (1930) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Edited by eighteen-year-old communist Judah Waten, with Herbert McClintock as art editor, Strife declared itself ‘an organ of the new culture, destructive and constructive’. The first issue was due for release in October 1930; however, a blasphemous poem by Brian Fitzpatrick published in the magazine prompted a police raid on the Strife office and the editor’s hasty destruction of (most) copies of the issue.

 

Installation view of cover illustration for 'Proletariat', vol. 2, no. 1 (1933) by an unknown illustrator

 

Installation view of cover illustration for Proletariat, vol. 2, no. 1 (1933) by an unknown illustrator from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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12
Apr
16

Cabinet card: William Bardwell, photographer – Alfred William Howitt, William Barak and unidentified man

April 2016

Caution: Art Blart advises that the subject of this posting may include images and names of deceased people that may cause distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

 

 

William Bardwell. Untitled (Alfred William Howitt, William Barak and unidentified man)' Melbourne, 1880-1888

 

William Bardwell (Australian, active 1858-1895)
Untitled (Alfred William Howitt, William Barak and unidentified man)
Melbourne, 1866-1870(?)
Albumen photograph
Cabinet card

 

 

This cabinet card (above) was offered for sale recently and went for a large sum of money. I have never seen this photograph before and, although I have searched for it on the National Library of Australia Trove website and online, I cannot find it anywhere. But I thought I recognised the figure in the middle of the photograph. Some research ensued…

Firstly, according to Alan Davis’ seminal 1985 book The mechanical eye in Australia: photography 1841-1900 William Bardwell, photographer, operated from 21 Collins Street East, Melbourne between 1880-88. But Bardwell was at 21 Collins Street from at least 1877, and may well have been there earlier, as he was listed as insolvent there in 1879 before reopening his business. It could have been the case that Bardwell took the photograph in the early 1870s and that he only issued it as a cabinet photograph after he recovered from bankruptcy.

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Secondly, and I might be mistaken, but I thought I recognised the distinctive countenance and piercing stare of that inspirational Indigenous leader, William Barak (c. 1824 – 15 August 1903) in the centre of the image. We can see he is wearing a roughly hewn jacket with waistcoat, stripped shirt and zigzag patterned necktie. His presence dominates the photograph – central, frontal, tallest and flanked by two sitting people, all placed idyllically against a lush backdrop of trees and an Arcadian stone fence. “Those who knew Barak described him unanimously as wise and dignified, with penetrating eyes and firm principles.”

If it is Barak, dating the photograph is something of a conundrum since Bardwell was known to be at 21 Collins Street officially from 1877 onwards but he could have taken this photograph much earlier. If we compare this cabinet card to other images of Barak from 1866 and 1875 and 1876 (see below), Barak’s hair and beard colour, with tinges or grey in the 1866 image and our cabinet card – compared to the grey bearded man in the 1875 images – leads us to the supposition that this image was taken between approximately 1866-1870(?). Florence Ada Fuller’s oil painting of Barak dated 1885 (LaTrobe Picture Collection) also shows his hair as being slightly grizzled but his beard as being fully white. What also supports the dating of the cabinet card to the mid-late 1860s is a comparison of the hair and beard of the other person we definitely know is in the photograph, that of Alfred William Howitt. If you compare Batchelder & O’Neill’s portrait of Alfred William Howitt (below) with the cabinet card, we can see that the hair and beard in both are very similar. Barak did travel to Gippsland in 1882 and 1884 to meet up with Howitt, so it is possible they knew each other much earlier.

My initial identification that the Indigenous Australian in the cabinet card was Barak was made on a comparison of the shape of the beard; the strong flared nose; the fact that the beard comes down over his cheek bones in both the 1866 and cabinet card images; the furrowed shape of the brow which to me is very distinctive; and those penetrating eyes. Admittedly the hair is slightly different and we also cannot see the scar on the right hand cheek of Barak which is present in the 1866 image, because of the size of the enlargement of the cabinet card. But I still stand by my recognition of Barak until we can prove substantially otherwise.

At the time this photograph was taken, Barak would have been anywhere between 42-46 years old, depending on the exact year it was taken.

Ahead in Barak’s life would be leadership, creativity … and heartache. From 1874 onwards, Barak would have been the sole ngurungaeta (clan-head) of the Wurundjeri-balluk clan of Woi wurrung,2 and would lead his people living on the Coranderrk Station, near Healesville. But there were unsettling times ahead. In 1866, sixty people were evicted from the station and the station lost half its land in 1893. So much for the Aboriginal Protection Board, what a misnomer the title of that organisation turned out to be. As Barak famously said, “Me no leave it, Yarra, my country. There’s no mountains for me on the Murray.”

All of this was happening when Barak was going through the most tremendous personal hardship as well. In 1882, his son David (see photograph by Fred Kruger below) fell ill from tuberculosis and arrangements were made to admit him to hospital in Melbourne. These were thwarted by Captain Page, secretary of the Aboriginal Protection Board, and Barak had to carry his sick child all the way from Coranderrk to Melbourne and the home of his supporter Anne Bon. David was admitted to hospital but died soon after, with his father not even allowed to be by his bedside. After David’s death there is a heavy sadness noticeable in Barak’s eyes (see the book First Australians by Rachel Perkins, Marcia Langton, p. 104).

I have much admiration for this man, for the hardships he personally endured and which his people went through, and continue to go through to this day.

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And thirdly, the pith helmet was the give away to the identity of the person sitting at left in the photograph: Alfred William Howitt (1830-1908), explorer, natural scientist and pioneer authority on Aboriginal culture and social organisation. As an explorer, Howitt led the relief exhibition (June 1861) to rescue Robert O’Hara Burke, William Wills, John King and Charley Gray, to find only King alive and bring him back to Melbourne. He then returned a second time to Cooper’s Creek to repatriate the bodies of Burke and Wills (December 1861).

In 1863 he began a distinguished career of thirty-eight years as a public official, twenty-six of them as magistrate. In 1889 he became acting secretary of mines and water supply and in 1895 commissioner of audit and a member of the Public Service Board. But his real passion was as an anthropologist, his work stretching through fours phases between 1861-1907 (see the full biography for details).

“On his expedition to the Barcoo Howitt had met members of the Yantruwanta, Dieri and other tribes while they were uninfluenced by Europeans. He learned, though inexpertly, something of their ecology, languages, beliefs and customs. The experience confirmed in him a dissociation between the Aboriginals as an object of scientific interest and as a challenge to social policy. Family letters show that he went to central Australia sharing the racial and social prejudices of the day. His attitudes softened later but nothing in his writings suggests that he ever agreed with the condemnation of Europeans for their treatment of native peoples expressed in his father’s polemical Colonization and Christianity (1838). Even in official roles – he was for a time a local guardian of Aboriginals in Gippsland and in 1877 sat on the royal commission which inquired into their whole situation – his attitude appears always to have been that of the dispassionate scientist. His view of their problems did not extend beyond charitable paternalism and segregated training in institutions. His dealings with Aboriginals were cordial and appreciative if somewhat calculated, and he had no difficulty in finding long-serving helpers among them in all his inquiries. But he saw them as a people doomed to extinction by an extraordinary primitivity, and this quality aroused his scientific interest…

“More appreciative eyes … now recognise that Howitt greatly widened the base, improved the methods and deepened the insights of a nascent science. He wrote in a careful, informed way on a wealth of empirical topics – boomerangs, canoes, name-giving, cannibalism, migrations, wizardry, songs, message-sticks, sign-language – but most valuably on the kinship structures and intergroup relations of social life.”2

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This is a fascinating cabinet card for its cultural implications… and for what it leaves unsaid of the attitudes and history of the men pictured in this bucolic scene. William Barak was a man, a leader and an elder who kept the flame of his people and his culture alive. Who after all of his travails, turned to creativity and painting to record his culture for future generations. Culture and creativity in any language is a powerful healing force in what is an ongoing story of injustice and persecution. I would have very much liked to have meet this wise man.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Box 1053/2 (b/c), ‘Notes by Howitt on the Kulin nation from information provided by William Barak’ c. 1882 quoted in Ian D. Clark. “The A.W. How Papers,” in La Trobe Journal No 43, Autumn 1989, p. 30 on the La Trobe Journal website [Online] Cited 06/10/2021.
  2. W. E. H. Stanner. “Howitt, Alfred William (1830-1908),” on the Australian Dictionary of Biography website Volume 4, (MUP), 1972 [Online] Cited 09/04/2016.

 

 

Carl Walter (Australian, 1831-1907) 'William Barak - age 42 - Yarra Yarra Tribe' 1866

 

Carl Walter (Australian, 1831-1907)
William Barak – age 42 – Yarra Yarra Tribe
1866
Albumen silver photograph
Approx. 10.0 x 6.7cm
State Library of Victoria

 

 

Carl Walter (c. 1831 – 7 October 1907), also known as Charles Walter, was a German-born botanist and photographer who worked in Australia. Walter was born in Mecklenburg, Germany in about 1831 and arrived in Victoria in the 1850s.

Walter set up a photographic studio in Melbourne, promoting himself as a “Country Photographic Artist” or “Landscape Photographic Artist”. For a twenty-year period starting from about 1862, he would periodically travel to eastern and alpine regions of Victoria with camera equipment and camping gear in a backpack.

In 1866 Walter took 106 photographs of Aboriginal people at Coranderrk east of Melbourne, which were exhibited at the Intercolonial Exhibition of Australasia in Melbourne in 1866-67.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Fred Kruger (Australian born Germany, 1831-1888) 'William and Annie Barak with their son, David, at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station' c. 1875

 

Fred Kruger (Australian born Germany, 1831-1888)
William and Annie Barak with their son, David, at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station
c. 1875

 

Fred Kruger (Australian born Germany, 1831-1888) 'William and Annie Barak with their son David at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station' c. 1875

 

Fred Kruger (Australian born Germany, 1831–1888)
William and Annie Barak with their son David at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station
c. 1875
Yarra Ranges Regional Museum, 9499

 

 

Fred Kruger (born Johan Friedrich Carl Kruger, 18 April 1831 – 15 February 1888) was a German-born photographer noted for his early photography of landscape and indigenous peoples in Victoria, Australia. …

In 1866, Kruger first registered his photography business at 133 Cardigan Street, Carlton, Melbourne, before moving it in August 1867 to High Street, Prahran, Melbourne, continuing there until 1871, then relocating in Preston to High Street and again to Regent Street in that suburb.

During this period, Kruger was achieving international recognition for his landscape photography, including the award of medals from both the 1872 Vienna Exhibition and the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. He became the first photographer to take group photos of the first Aboriginal cricket team in 1866, which became one of his most recognised images, and was subsequently commissioned in 1877 by the Aboriginal Protection Board to create a collection of work including portraits of the Aboriginal residents of the Coranderrk reserve, an Aboriginal reserve run by the colonial government of Victoria, which was made public in 1883. Kruger won more awards; a gold medal for the best collection of landscape views and another, for the best panoramic view of Geelong, at the Geelong Industrial and Juvenile Exhibition in 1879.

In March 1879 Kruger was photographing groups of Geelong residents, ensuring each person could easily be identified in his detailed views, as he did when photographing the Corio Bay rowing crew in November 1879. …

Kruger then settled in Geelong permanently, and his photography studio is registered on 29 December 1887 at Skene Street, in the Geelong suburb of Newtown. He created a collection in 1880 of twelve views of the streets and buildings of Geelong, winning him an award at the Melbourne International Exhibition (1880). The government of Victoria engaged him to photograph the Yan Yean Waterworks for the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London. Kruger gained commissions from house owners to photograph their homes, most famous of which was from Lady Loch, the wife of the Governor.

Kruger made three visits to the Queenscliff region in 1881, 1882 and 1885, capturing views to include the buildings of the settlement and its marine setting. On 15 February 1888, Kruger died of peritonitis (inflammation of the membranes of abdominal wall and organs). Large holdings of his work have been showcased at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Text from the Wikipedia website

Read more about Fred Kruger:

 

Unknown photographer. 'William Barak' 1876

 

Unknown photographer
William Barak
1876
National Archives of Australia, A1200, L22062

 

 

William Barak (c. 1824-1903) and Coranderrk

William Barak (or Beruk), was the last traditional ngurungaeta (elder) of the Wurundjeri-willam clan, first inhabitants of present-day Melbourne, Australia. He became an influential spokesman for Aboriginal social justice and an important informant on Wurundjeri cultural lore.

Barak was born in the early 1820s at Brushy Creek near present-day Croydon, in the country of the Wurundjeri people… Barak attended the government’s Yarra Mission School from 1837 to 1839. When he joined the Native Mounted Police in 1844, he was given the name of William Barak. He was Police Trooper No.19. In early 1863, Barak moved to Coranderrk Station, near Healesville, Victoria with about thirty others… Upon the death of Simon Wonga in 1875, Barak became the Ngurungaeta of the clan. He worked tirelessly for his people and was a successful negotiator on their behalf. He was a highly respected man and leader, with standing amongst the Indigenous people and the European settlers.

 

Coranderrk Station

Coranderrk Station ran successfully for many years as an Aboriginal enterprise, selling wheat, hops and crafts on the burgeoning Melbourne market. Produce from the farm won first prize at the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1881; and other awards in previous years, such as 1872. By 1874, the Aboriginal Protection Board (APB) was looking for ways to undermine Coranderrk by moving people away due to their successful farming practices. Neighbouring farmers also wanted the mission closed as the land was now deemed ‘too valuable’ for Aboriginal people to occupy. Photographer Fred Kruger was commissioned to document the site and its inhabitants.

 

Coranderrk Petition

In the 1870s and ’80s, Coranderrk residents sent deputations to the Victorian colonial government protesting their lack of rights and the threatened closure of the reserve. A Royal Commission in 1877 and a Parliamentary Inquiry in 1881 on the Aboriginal ‘problem’ led to the Aborigines Protection Act 1886, which required ‘half-castes under the age of 35’ to leave the reserve.

Activist William Barak and others sent a petition on behalf of the Aboriginal people of Coranderrk to the Victorian Government in 1886, which reads: “Could we get our freedom to go away Shearing and Harvesting and to come home when we wish and also to go for the good of our Health when we need it … We should be free like the White Population there is only few Blacks now rem[a]ining in Victoria, we are all dying away now and we Blacks of Aboriginal Blood, wish to have now freedom for all our life time … Why does the Board seek in these latter days more stronger authority over us Aborigines than it has yet been?”

As a result of the Aborigines Protection Act of 1886, around 60 residents were ejected from Coranderrk on the eve of the 1890s Depression. Their forced departure crippled Coranderrk as an enterprise, with only around 15 able-bodied men left to work the hitherto successful hop gardens. Almost half the land was reclaimed by government in 1893, and by 1924 orders came for its closure as an Aboriginal Station, despite protests from Wurundjeri returned servicemen who had fought in World War I.

Barak is now best remembered for his artworks, which show both traditional Indigenous life and encounters with Europeans. Most of Barak’s drawings were completed at Coranderrk during the 1880s and 1890s. They are now highly prized and exhibited in leading public galleries in Australia. His work is on permanent display in the National Gallery of Victoria Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square, Melbourne.”

Text from the “William Barak” and “Coranderrk” Wikipedia web pages.

 

Fred Kruger. 'David Barak at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station' c.1876

 

Fred Kruger (Australian born Germany, 1831-1888)
David Barak at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station
c.1876
Museum Victoria

 

 

“This small, carte de visite sized photograph says more to me than most of the other photographs in the exhibition put together. It is almost as though the photographer had a personal attachment and connection to the subject. This poignant (in light of following events) dark, brown-hued photograph shows the son of elder and leader William Barak about the age of 9 years old in 1876. In 1882, David fell ill from tuberculosis and arrangements were made to admit him to hospital in Melbourne. These were thwarted by Captain Page, secretary of the Aboriginal Protection Board, and Barak had to carry his sick child all the way from Coranderrk to Melbourne and the home of his supporter Anne Bon. David was admitted to hospital but died soon after, with his father not even allowed to be by his bedside. After David’s death there is a heavy sadness noticeable in Barak’s eyes (see the book First Australians by Rachel Perkins, Marcia Langton, p. 104).

Unlike other photographs of family groups taken at Coranderrk, Kruger places David front on to the camera in the lower 2/3 rds of the picture plane on his own, framed by the symmetry of the steps and door behind. David glasps his hands in a tight embrace in front of him (nervously?), his bare feet touching the earth, his earth. The only true highlight in the photograph is a white neckerchief tied around his throat. There is an almost halo-like radiance around his head, probably caused by holding back (dodging) during the printing process. Small, timid but strong, in too short trousers and darker jacket, this one image – of a child, a human being, standing on the earth that was his earth before invasion – has more intimacy than any other image Kruger ever took, even as he tried to engender a sense of intimacy with the environment.”

Dr Marcus Bunyan. Review of “‘Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscapes” at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne” on the Art Blart website 01/07/2012 [Online] Cited 08/04/2016.

 

Fred Kruger. 'Aboriginal cricketers at Coranderrk' c.1877

 

Fred Kruger (born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888)
Aboriginal cricketers at Coranderrk
c.1877
albumen silver photograph
13.3 x 18.6cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl M. Curl, 1979

 

Unknown photographer. '[A group of Aboriginal men at Coranderrk Station, Healesville]' Nd

 

Unknown photographer
[A group of Aboriginal men at Coranderrk Station, Healesville]
Nd [perhaps c. 1895-1900 looking at the age of Barak]
Silver gelatin photograph
15.6 x 20.1cm
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

 

Studio portrait of sixteen Aboriginal men, five standing, five seated on chairs, the rest on the ground, all except two full face, wearing European dress. Barak back row 2nd left. Information provided by Aunty Joy Murphy, Wurundjeri Senior Elder confirming that Barak is correctly identified. Preferred title supplied by the Aboriginal Liaison Officer, Museum of Victoria.

 

Talma & Co. 'Barak, Chief of the Yarra Yarra Tribe. [Barak drawing a corroboree]' c. 1895-98

 

Talma & Co. (1893-1932) 119 Swanston St. Melbourne
Barak, Chief of the Yarra Yarra Tribe [Barak drawing a corroboree]
c. 1895-98
Gelatin silver photograph
13.3 x 8.5cm., on mount 22.7 x 16.5cm
Inscribed in ink on mount l.l.: From Mrs. A. Bon, / “Wappan”.
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

 

Barak working on a drawing attached to the wall of a vertical slab hut. There is a wooden picket fence at the right hand side.

 

William Barak (Yarra Yarra chief, 1824-1903) 'Aboriginal ceremony' c. 1880 - c. 1890

 

Barak (Yarra Yarra chief, 1824-1903)
Aboriginal ceremony
c. 1880 – c. 1890
Brown ochre and charcoal on cardboard
73.2 x 55.5cm
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

William Barak (Yarra Yarra chief, 1824-1903) 'Aboriginal ceremony, with wallaby and emu' c. 1880 - c. 1890

 

William Barak (Yarra Yarra chief, 1824-1903)
Aboriginal ceremony, with wallaby and emu
c. 1880 – c. 1890
Brown ochre and charcoal on cardboard
73.0 x 56.0cm
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

 

Alfred William Howitt (1830-1908)

Alfred William Howitt (1830-1908), explorer, natural scientist and pioneer authority on Aboriginal culture and social organization, was born on 17 April 1830 at Nottingham, England, the oldest surviving son of William Howitt and his wife Mary, née Botham. He was educated in England, Heidelberg and University College School, London. In 1852, under the press of family needs, he went with his father and brother Charlton to Melbourne where they had been preceded in 1840 by William’s youngest brother Godfrey. A reunion was one purpose of the visit but William and his sons also intended to try their fortunes on the new goldfields. They did so with modest success at intervals in the next two years. The experience turned the course of Alfred’s life. He learned to live with confidence in the bush, and its natural phenomena, so strange and as yet so little studied, stimulated his mind to their scientific study. In 1854 his father and brother returned to England but Howitt elected to remain, thoroughly at home in the Australian scene.

Young and handsome, of short and wiry build and notably calm and self-possessed, he fulfilled his mother’s prophecy that ‘someday Alfred will be a backwoodsman’. For a time he farmed his uncle’s land at Caulfield but, unattracted by the life, turned again to the bush and as a drover on the route from the Murray to Melbourne made the passing acquaintance of Lorimer Fison. An experienced bushman and ardent naturalist, Howitt was sent in 1859 by a Melbourne syndicate to examine the pastoral potential of the Lake Eyre region on which Peter Warburton had reported rosily. He led a party with skill and speed from Adelaide through the Flinders Ranges into the Davenport Range country but found it desolated by drought and returned to warn his sponsors. His ability as a bushman and resourceful leader came to public notice when, after briefly managing a sheep station at Hamilton and prospecting in Gippsland, he took a government party through unexplored alpine country to gold strikes on the Crooked, Dargo and Wentworth Rivers. He was an obvious choice as leader when in 1861 the exploration committee of the Royal Society of Victoria decided to send an expedition to relieve or, as the worst fears sensed, to rescue Robert O’Hara Burke, William Wills, John King and Charley Gray. Howitt’s discharge of this assignment was exemplary. Without blunder or loss he twice led large parties on the long journey to Cooper’s Creek. He soon found King, the only survivor, and took him to a public welcome in Melbourne but avoided the limelight for himself. Then, at request, he returned to bring the remains of Burke and Wills to the capital for interment. On the second expedition he had explored a large tract of the Barcoo country.

For his services Howitt was appointed police magistrate and warden of the Omeo goldfields, and in 1863 began a distinguished career of thirty-eight years as a public official, twenty-six of them as magistrate. In 1889 he became acting secretary of mines and water supply and in 1895 commissioner of audit and a member of the Public Service Board. He retired in January 1902 on a pension but served on the royal commission which in 1903 examined sites for the seat of government of the Commonwealth, and was chairman of the royal commission on the Victorian coal industry in 1905-06.

Such a career would have sufficed an ordinary man but Howitt attained greater things within it. Physical and intellectual fatigue seemed unknown to him. ‘What are they?’ he asked drily at 75 when Fison inquired if he never felt the infirmities of old age. In his long magistracy he travelled enormous distances annually (in one year, it was said, 7000 miles [11,265 km]) on horseback throughout Victoria. He read while in the saddle and studied the natural scene with such assiduous care that from 1873 onward he began to contribute to official reports, scientific journals and learned societies papers of primary value on the Gippsland rocks. He pioneered the use in Australia of thin-section petrology and chemical analysis of rocks. His fundamental contribution was his discovery and exploration of the Upper Devonian series north of Bairnsdale. He also made important studies of the Lower Devonian volcanics in East Gippsland and compiled magnificent geological maps of the area. In botany his Eucalypts of Gippsland (1889) became a standard authority and he collected hundreds of varieties of ferns, grasses, acacias and flowering plants. But his greatest eminence came from his work in anthropology, which was his main interest and relaxation after 1872…

Read the full biography by W. E. H. Stanner. “Howitt, Alfred William (1830-1908),” on the Australian Dictionary of Biography website Volume 4, (MUP), 1972 [Online] Cited 09/04/2016.

 

Alfred William Howitt c. 1861

 

Alfred Howitt, the leader of the party to rescue Burke and Wills, circa 1861, from William Strutt album illustrating the Burke and Wills exploring expedition crossing the continent of Australia from Cooper’s Creek to Carpentaria, June 1861, DL PXX 3

 

Batchelder & O'Neill. 'Alfred William Howitt' c. 1863

 

Batchelder & O’Neill
Alfred William Howitt
c. 1863
Albumen silver carte-de-visite
9.0 x 5.2cm
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

 

Howitt full length in the photographers’ studio, leaning on a button-backed chair, wearing a three-piece winter suit, with a watch-chain and holding a pair of gloves in his right hand.

 

Batchelder & O'Neill. 'Alfred William Howitt' Nd

 

Batchelder & O’Neill
Alfred William Howitt
Nd
Albumen silver carte-de-visite
on mount 10.7 x 6.5cm approx.
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

 

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20
Sep
15

Exhibition: ‘Storm in a Teacup’ at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery, Mornington

Exhibition dates: 24th July – 27th September 2015

 

Hotham Street Ladies (est. Australia 2007) 'Dark tea' 2015

 

Hotham Street Ladies (est. Australia 2007)
Dark tea (installation photo)
2015
Royal icing, butter cream icing, fondant, food dye, found objects
Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artists

 

 

This is the best thematic group exhibition I have seen in Melbourne and surrounds this year.

Every piece in the exhibition is visually stimulating and intelligently constructed, all works combining to make an engaging exhibition. Nothing is superfluous, every work having something interesting to say, whether it is about the ceremony of tea drinking, colonisation, global warming, Stolen Generations or social mores. Congratulations must go to the curators and artists for their efforts.

Particular favourites where the Hotham Street Ladies Dark Tea (2015, below) made of royal icing, butter cream icing, fondant, food dye, and found objects; the many sculptural objects which form the backbone of the exhibition, especially the work of Sharon West and Penny Byrne; and the wonderful vintage photographs that are displayed in the foyer of the gallery.

Accompanying this exhibition is another excellent exhibition, Ways to draw: A selection from the permanent collection by Betty Churcher, on till 27th September as well. If you want a day out from Melbourne with lunch in Mornington, some seriously good art and a drive along the coast, you could do no better than visit the gallery in the next week. Highly recommended.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Hotham Street Ladies (est. Australia 2007) 'Dark tea' 2015 (detail)

Hotham Street Ladies (est. Australia 2007) 'Dark tea' 2015 (detail)

 

Hotham Street Ladies (est. Australia 2007)
Dark tea (details)
2015
Royal icing, butter cream icing, fondant, food dye, found objects
Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artists

 

Charles Blackman (b. Australia 1928) 'Feet beneath the table' 1956

 

Charles Blackman (Australian, 1928-2018)
Feet beneath the table
1956
Tempera and oil on composition board
106.5 x 121.8cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented through the NGV Foundation by Barbara Blackman, Honorary Life Benefactor, 2005

 

 

Charles Blackman first encountered Lewis Caroll’s book, Alice in Wonderland, through a talking book for the blind which his wife, Barbara was listening to. Her developing blindness resulted in telescopic vision, spatial disorientation and a shrinking visual field. She was also pregnant with their first child and her distorted body image also had parallels with Alice’s experiences. By painting Alice at the Mad Hatter’s tea party Blackman could express his wife’s feeling of bewilderment and disorientation.

 

E. Phillips Fox (b. Australia 1865; d. Victoria 1915) 'The arbour' 1910

 

E. Phillips Fox (b. Australia 1865; d. Victoria 1915)
The arbour
1910
Oil on canvas
190.5 x 230.7cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest 1916

 

 

Melbourne born E. Phillips Fox, described as ‘one of the greatest of Australia’s Impressionist painters and the most gifted of her colourists’1 went to Paris in 1887 to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts where he encountered the work of the French Impressionists. He remained in Paris for several years but made frequent trips back to Melbourne to visit his family. The Arbour was painted in Paris in Fox’s garden but is based upon observations of family life in his brother’s garden in Malvern. The depiction of an elegant family taking tea al fresco is a study of refined gentility. The Arbour was exhibited at both the Royal Academy and the Paris Salon exhibitions and was regarded by Fox as the finest thing he had done.2 At the time the painting was much admired for its ‘subtle lights ad shadow’3 and his exemplary ‘use of delicate colour and refined harmonies.’4

  1. Courier Mail, 12 May 1949
  2. Sydney Morning Herald, 13 October 1913
  3. Sydney Morning Herald, 13 October 1913
  4. Le Courrier Australien, Sydney, 15 April 1949

 

Clare Humphries (b. Australia 1973) 'Some things were out in the open' 2007

 

Clare Humphries (Australian, b. 1973)
Some things were out in the open
2007
Pigment print on Hahnemühle photo rag paper (ed. 3/5)
63.0 x 62.0cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Adam Hill (Blak Douglas) (b. Australia 1970) 'Not everyone’s cup of tea' 2009

 

Adam Hill (Blak Douglas) (Australian, b. 1970)
Not everyone’s cup of tea
2009
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
150.0 x 260.0cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 2009

 

Kendal Murray (b. Australia 1958) 'Exceed speed, mislead, concede' 2011

 

Kendal Murray (Australian, b. 1958)
Exceed speed, mislead, concede
2011
Mixed media assemblage
18.0 x 24.0 x 14.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and Arthouse Gallery, Sydney

 

Penny Byrne (b. Australia 1965) 'Tea for two in Tuvalu' 2011

 

Penny Byrne (Australian, b. 1965)
Tea for two in Tuvalu
2011
Vintage porcelain figurine, vintage, Action man accessories, vintage coral, glass fish, epoxy resin, epoxy putty, retouching medium, powder pigments
15.0 x 19.0cm
Private Collection

 

Penny Byrne (b. Australia 1965) 'Tea for two in Tuvalu' 2011

 

Penny Byrne (Australian, b. 1965)
Tea for two in Tuvalu (installation photo)
2011
Vintage porcelain figurine, vintage, Action man accessories, vintage coral, glass fish, epoxy resin, epoxy putty, retouching medium, powder pigments
15.0 x 19.0cm
Private Collection

 

 

This piece was inspired by an underwater cabinet meeting held in 2009 by Maldives President Mohammed Nasheed in a campaign to raise awareness for activity on climate change. The thirty minute meeting was held six metres below sea level and was attended by eleven cabinet members calling upon all countries to cut their emissions to halt further temperature rises.

Polynesian island nation of Tuvalu, located in the Pacific Ocean midway between Hawaii and Australia, experienced a severe drought in 2011. A sate of emergency was declared and rationing of fresh-water took place which restricted households on some of the islands to two buckets of fresh water per day. Tuvalu is also especially susceptible to changes in sea level and it is estimated that a sea level rise of 20 to 40 centimetres in the next 100 years could make Tuvalu uninhabitable.

 

Kate Bergin (b. Australia 1968) 'The hunt for a room of one’s own' 2012

 

Kate Bergin (Australian, b. 1968)
The hunt for a room of one’s own
2012
Oil on canvas on board
75.0 x 101.0 cm
Private Collection

 

 

Kate Bergin draws upon Dutch and Flemish seventeenth century tradition of still life painting to comment on our attitudes to animals. Bergin stages the scene on a crumpled white tablecloth upon which a large fox, based on a taxidermy fox she bought on eBay, regally sits centre stage. Meticulously rendered native birds, including a honeyeater, finch and triller, are based on photographs of specimens from the Melbourne Museum Collection. They flit about unperturbed by the introduced predator. Teaspoons, representing the impulse for collecting, entangle the fox and bird. Together with a teapot and cup, precariously placed, they contribute to the overarching sense of impending chaos.

Both afternoon tea and the fox represent English upper class social mores and were introduced into the colonies following British settlement. The fox arrived in 1855, brought in for recreational hunting, and has been a major cause of native bird extinctions. Fox numbers are increasing in some areas further threatening the precarious balance between wild life and introduced species.

 

Sharon West (b. Australia 1963) 'Two Koori Tribesmen receive a gift of afternoon tea from local colonists' 2014

 

Sharon West (Australian, b. 1963)
Two Koori Tribesmen receive a gift of afternoon tea from local colonists (installation photo)
2014
Mixed media assemblage
15.0 x 46.0 x 30.0cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Heather Shimmen (b. Australia 1957) 'Tip me up' 2005

 

Heather Shimmen (Australian, b. 1957)
Tip me up (installation photo)
2005
Linocut on paper and organza (ed. 7/30)
56.0 x 76.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and Australian Galleries, Melbourne and Sydney

 

Trent Jansen (b. Australia 1981) 'Briggs family tea service' 2011

 

Trent Jansen (Australian, b. 1981)
Briggs family tea service (installation photo)
2011
Slip cast porcelain, bull kelp, wallaby pelt, copper and brass
George (teapot) 22.5 x 20.5 x 13.0cm; Woretermoeteyenner (sugar bowl) 16.0 x 13.5 x 9.0cm; Dolly (milk jug) 12.5 x 12.5 x 8.5cm; John (teacup) 7.0 x 8.5 x 8.0cm; Eliza (teacup) 7.5 x 10.5 x 8.0cm; Mary (teacup) 10.0 x 9.0 x 6.5cm
Courtesy of Broached Commissions, Melbourne

 

 

The Briggs family tea service represents the marriage of George Briggs, a free settler, to Woretermoeteyenner of the Pairrebeenne people in Van Diemen’s Land and the four children they had together. Briggs arrived from Bedfordshire in 1791 and learned to speak the language of the local Pairrebeenne people, trading tea, flour and sugar fro kangaroo, wallaby and seal skins. It is understood that he became good friends with the leader of the Pairrebeenne people, Mannalargenna, and by 1810 he partnered his daughter Woretermoeteyenner. Their marriage meant she had to adapt to a way of life that merged her traditional cultural values with the ways of British settlers. The teapot and sugar bowl represent the parents while their first daughter, Doll Mountgarret Briggs is symbolised in the milk jug and the three cups each signify their other children John, Eliza and Mary.

The tea service is a hybrid design bringing together materials common to both cultures. To realise the set Jansen worked with Rod Bamford on the ceramic elements, Oliver Smith for the brass and copper and Vicki West, who uses the traditional methods of her Tasmanian Aboriginal ancestors, worked with the bull kelp components.

 

eX de Medici (b. Australia 1959) 'Blue (Bower-Bauer)' 1998–2000

 

eX de Medici (Australian, b. 1959)
Blue (Bower-Bauer) (installation photo)
1998-2000
Watercolour over black pencil on paper
114.0 x 152.8 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 2004

 

eX de Medici (b. Australia 1959) 'Blue (Bower-Bauer)' 1998-2000 (detail)

 

eX de Medici (Australian, b. 1959)
Blue (Bower-Bauer) (detail)
1998-2000
Watercolour over black pencil on paper
114.0 x 152.8cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 2004

 

 

A turning point in eX de Medici’s career came in 1998 when she saw an exhibition of watercolours by Ferdinand Bauer comprising 2,000 rarely seen images of native flora and fauna made when Bauer was official artist on Matthew Flinder’s historic circumnavigation of Australia in 1801-03. Previously working with tattoo imagery, Medici found the intricate works so compelling she decided to change course and ‘retrograde’ herself and explore watercolour as a medium.1

Referencing Australia’s Bower bird that adorns its nest with anything blue, Medici entangles the history of vanitas painting with commentary about the desire to seek permanence and affirmation in the accumulation of things. The broken willow pattern platter, upturned jugs and cups, amassed with so many other decorative and functional objects, are juxtaposed with skulls, fruit and flowers – symbols of mortality. A reaction to what she considered John Howard’s regressive politics at the time, the work ‘is a kind of a backhanded discussion about colonising our minds with retroactive ideas’.2

  1. Ted Gott. ‘eX deMedici an epic journey on a Lilliputian scale’ Art and Australia Vol. 40, No. 1, Spring 2002, p. 105
  2. eX deMedici in Paul Flynn. Artist Profile #5, March 2008, pp. 28-35.

 

 

Storm in a Teacup reflects upon tea drinking in Australia. Introduced by the British colonials, the afternoon tea party was an attempt to ‘civilise’ the land. Tea drinking became so popular in the colonies that by 1888 the amount of tea consumed per capita exceeded the amount consumed in England. Soon after, billy tea was to become an enduring symbol of the pioneering spirit, immortalised by Henry Lawson’s stories published under the title While the billy boils.

Beginning with elegant paintings of the afternoon tea table from E. Phillips Fox and Arthur Streeton, the exhibition goes on to explore the darker side of tea drinking and the social and environmental impacts of the humble cup of tea. Michael Cook’s Object (table), 2015, provides an alternative history to the narrative of colonialism while Sharon West and Adam Hill both use humour to subvert colonial understandings of the afternoon tea party as an occasion of refined gentility.

The humble cuppa has been around for thousands of years, but this exhibition explores how a popular beverage can impact on us culturally, socially, environmentally and politically. There is more to debate than just the proper way to make a cup of tea. Storm in a teacup explores far-reaching issues brewing from tea, including the imposition of one culture upon another – especially on the colonial frontier; the production of ceramics and the environmental impacts of porcelain and its production; gender stereotypes and socialisation through tea parties. The exhibition also reflects upon tea drinking ceremonies in Asia within a western Orientalist paradigm and tea drinking as an occasion for familial cohesiveness and disconnect.”

Text from the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Mark James Daniel (1867-1949) 'Verandah, "Harefield" - afternoon tea' Feb 1900

 

Mark James Daniel (Australian, 1867-1949)
Verandah, “Harefield” – afternoon tea
Feb 1900
Glass negative
8.5 x 11.0cm (quarter plate)
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

Michael J Drew (1873-1943) 'Group taking tea in a garden' between 1890 and 1900

 

Michael J Drew (Australian, 1873-1943)
Group taking tea in a garden
between 1890 and 1900
Glass negative
12.2 x 16.5cm (half plate)
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

Rex Hazlewood (1886-1968) '[Men drinking billy tea]' 1911 - 1927

 

Rex Hazlewood (Australian, 1886-1968)
[Men drinking billy tea]
1911-1927
Silver gelatin print
Collection of the State Library of New South Wales

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Afternoon tea at "Vivaleigh"' 1917

 

Anonymous photographer
Afternoon tea at “Vivaleigh”
1917
Gelatin silver print
12 x 16cm
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

James Fox Barnard (1874-1945) 'Lawn, Arylie, Hobart' c. 1900

 

James Fox Barnard (Australian, 1874-1945)
Lawn, Arylie, Hobart
c. 1900
Glass negative
8.5 x 11.0cm (quarter plate)
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

James Fox Barnard (1874-1945) '[Tea on the verandah]' c. 1900

 

James Fox Barnard (Australian, 1874-1945)
[Tea on the verandah]
c. 1900
Glass negative
8.5 x 11.0cm (quarter plate)
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Storm in a Teacup' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Storm in a Teacup' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Storm in a Teacup' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Storm in a Teacup' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Storm in a Teacup' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Storm in a Teacup at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

 

Tea is the medium of many a complex and commonplace rituals. Adopted in a variety of ceremonies and customs across the globe, its unique and symbolic place in our lives is subtle and powerful. Whether a quick cuppa around the kitchen table or a lavish display of refined gentility; from billy tea to Asian tea-drinking ceremonies, tea has played an important role in international trade but more curiously in facilitating social cohesiveness.

Comprising approximately 50 works including painting, photography, sculpture and installation Storm in a Teacup features artists such as Chares Blackman, John Perceval, Emma Minnie Boyd, E. Phillips Fox and contemporary artists Stephen Bowers, Danie Mellor, Penny Byrne, Rosalie Gasgoigne, Matthew Sleeth, eX de Medici, Anne Zahalka, Polixeni Papapetrou and a mad tea party installation by Hotham Street Ladies.

Tea is said to have first been invented in China around 2700 BC, with the earliest records of tea consumption dating to 1000BC. Initially consumed as a medicinal drink, it became widely popular as a common beverage and traded across Asia and Europe during the 16th century. It was King Charles II’s wife Catherine of Portugal who is said to have brought the tea habit to Great Britain. Indeed, the afternoon tea party first became fashionable in the seventeenth century following Queen Catherine de Braganza’s fondness for serving the beverage at Whitehall in London. It wasn’t until the 18th century that it became widely consumed with tea smuggling bringing the tipple to the masses and later influenced the Boston Tea Party.

Tea drinking became a demonstration of social aspirations and grew in popularity giving rise to a subtle orchestration of manners, dress and serving paraphernalia which created new forms of commodity consumption. In the colonies of New South Wales and Victoria afternoon tea parties were a lavish display of settler understandings of refined gentility that were an attempt to signal allegiance to the values of the home country and ground the displaced community in their originating culture. In this respect the afternoon tea party expressed collective understandings of British identity and was a means of domesticating and civilising the alien terrain of the colonies.

Press release from the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Clare Humphries (b. Australia 1973) 'Family confection II' 2015

Clare Humphries (b. Australia 1973) 'Family confection II' 2015

 

Clare Humphries (Australian, b. 1973)
Family confection II (installation photos)
2015
Sugar cubes stained with coffee and tea
Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artist

 

Giuseppe Romeo (b. Australia 1958) Subjective landscape, 'Of consequence rather than reason' 2015

DSC1644-WEB

 

Giuseppe Romeo (Australian, b. 1958)
Subjective landscape, ‘Of consequence rather than reason’ (installation photos)
2015
Found discarded objects, bitumen, paint
80.0 x 100.0 x 60.0cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Guiseppe Rome asks the simple question: ‘What are you going to do with it all?’

Romeo recalls the tea sets his mother and aunts possessed and the ‘good set’ kept for special occasions that were rarely used. In this work a silver platter is the support for a silver cake stand upon which a teapot, creamer, sugar bowl and various serving implements jostle with items required to clean up the mess. The bat, ball and stumps are a reference to playing cricket which ‘became an excuse for a big afternoon tea party in England’. A ribbon of wire holds it all together ‘like a dream from Alice in Wonderland when nothing is as it seems’, while a tinkling melody from a music box is a lullaby that sends us in to a contented sleep.

Romeo coats the sculpture in bitumen then paints it entirely in white. The effect is reminiscent of excavated items from an ancient ruin, as if w are peering upon the remains from a modern day Pompeii – artefacts that have been covered in lava and buried. This work alludes to the ways in which we deceive ourselves and ‘attempt to keep it all together through consumption but ultimately we can’t’.

 

Samantha Everton (b. Australia 1971) 'Camellia' 2009

 

Samantha Everton (Australian, b. 1971)
Camellia
2009
From the series Vintage dolls 2009
Pigment print on rag paper (ed. AP2)
106.0 x 114.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and Anthea Polson Art, Queensland

 

Robyn Phelan (b. Australia 1965) 'Porcelain wall – ode to an obsession' 2010-15

 

Robyn Phelan (Australian, b. 1965)
Porcelain wall – ode to an obsession (installation photo)
2010-15
Porcelain, paper, clay, cobalt oxide, timber, pigment, Jingdezhen tissue transfer
240.0 x 122.0 x 42.0cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Robyn Phelan (b. Australia 1965) 'Porcelain wall – ode to an obsession' 2010-15 (detail)

 

Robyn Phelan (Australian, b. 1965)
Porcelain wall – ode to an obsession (detail)
2010-15
Porcelain, paper, clay, cobalt oxide, timber, pigment, Jingdezhen tissue transfer
240.0 x 122.0 x 42.0cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Robyn Phelan undertook a residency at the Pottery Workshop and Experimental Sculptural Factory of Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province in China in 2008. Jingdezhen is known as the porcelain capital because it has been the centre of China’s ceramic production, beginning in the fourteenth century Yuan Dynasty, where fine porcelain was first exported all over the world.

Deposits of kaolinite, a clay found at Mt Kaolin nearby which can sustain very high firing temperatures produced a superior white porcelain of increased strength and translucency. Items made from kaolinite were fired with cobalt landscape designs and were highly sought after by European collectors. Over the centuries, because of excessive mining, the mountain’s deposits have become depleted. Phelan’s work is a lament to the desecration of the mountain and a reminder of the potential destructiveness of consumer desire.

 

Penny Byrne (b. Australia 1965) '‘Let’s forget about global warming’ said Alice ‘and have a cup of tea instead!’' 2010

 

Penny Byrne (Australian, b. 1965)
‘Let’s forget about global warming’ said Alice ‘and have a cup of tea instead!’ (installation photo)
2010
Vintage porcelain figurine, found toys, epoxy resin, epoxy putty, retouching medium, powder pigments
80.0 x 33.0cm
Williams Sinclair Collection

 

Penny Byrne (b. Australia 1965) '‘Let’s forget about global warming’ said Alice ‘and have a cup of tea instead!’' 2010 (detail)

 

Penny Byrne (Australian, b. 1965)
‘Let’s forget about global warming’ said Alice ‘and have a cup of tea instead!’ (detail)
2010
Vintage porcelain figurine, found toys, epoxy resin, epoxy putty, retouching medium, powder pigments
80.0 x 33.0cm
Williams Sinclair Collection

 

 

Penny Byrne’s reworked porcelain conversation piece was motivated by Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s cry to ‘drill, baby, drill’ during her campaign in 2008. A call for increase off-shore drilling of petroleum, including sites such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Palin claimed ‘that’s what we hear all across the country in our rallies because people are so hungry for those domestic sources of energy to be tapped into’.1

In Byrne’s piece the patriotic figures gorge themselves, blithely overindulging without care to the wastage. The new Disney production of Alice in Wonderland directed by Tim Burton had just been released and this led Byrne to reflect upon the Mad Hatter’s tea party in which tea was drunk all day because time stood still and was stuck at tea-time.

  1. Transcript: The Vice-Presidential Debate, 2 October 2008. Reprinted in the New York Times, 23 May 2012.

 

Sharon West (b. Australia 1963) 'Joseph Banks’ tea party for a Botany Bay tribesman is ruined by flies and spiders' 2014

 

Sharon West (Australian, b. 1963)
Joseph Banks’ tea party for a Botany Bay tribesman is ruined by flies and spiders
2014
Digital print on paper (ed. 2/5)
66.0 x 57.0cm (sheet)
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Sharon West’s recreation of an afternoon tea party is set in the early days of first contact. Joseph Banks was the botanist who sailed with Captain Cook on the Endeavour on the first voyage of discovery which mapped the east coast of Australia between 1768 and 1771. While ashore he made an extensive collection of native flora and fauna which was sent back to natural history museums in England. Banks was also instrumental in the British government’s decision to colonise the New South Wales settlement.

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (b. New Zealand 1917; arr. Australia 1943; d. Canberra 1999) 'The tea party' 1980

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (b. New Zealand 1917; arr. Australia 1943; d. Canberra 1999)
The tea party (installation photo)
1980
Painted wood, celluloid, plastic, enamelled metal, feathers
83.0 x 35.0 x 20.0cm
Private collection

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (b. New Zealand 1917; arr. Australia 1943; d. Canberra 1999) 'The tea party' 1980 (detail)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (b. New Zealand 1917; arr. Australia 1943; d. Canberra 1999)
The tea party (detail)
1980
Painted wood, celluloid, plastic, enamelled metal, feathers
83.0 x 35.0 x 20.0cm
Private collection

 

 

Rosalie Gascoigne found the kewpie dolls amongst a large number of discarded things from an abandoned sideshow at the Bungendore dump in the summer of 1976. ‘I thought “Oh, those dollies, they’re having a … very joyful … picnic. They’re … in the paddock, they’ve got all these old things … they’ve sat down on the teapots and waved their wings around.”

For Gascoigne beauty existed in the most humble of objects and the wear and tear from use only added to the appeal. The enamel teapots were also found at various dumps and were a particular focus of her collecting.

‘I had a thing about enamelware because I see it as being elegant. People see the holes in it. I was collecting brown and white at the same time. To me it had a sort of elegance that a Dalmatian dog has, spotty, very elegant’.1

  1. Rosalie Gascoigne, excerpts from her correspondence, email communication with Martin Gascoigne, 13 March 2015

 

Julie Dowling (b. Australia 1969) Badimaya people, Western Australia 'White with one' 2003

 

Julie Dowling (Australian, b. 1969)
Badimaya people, Western Australia
White with one
2003
Synthetic polymer paint and red ochre on canvas
121.0 x 100.0 cm
Collection of Jane Kleimeyer and Anthony Stuart

 

 

Julie Dowling’s painting is a poignant reminder of the Stolen Generations and the plight of many young girls, forcibly removed from their families, who were brought up in government institutions and trained to be domestic servant to white families. Girls were targeted because women were considered the ‘uplifters’ or ‘civilisers’ of their communities and as future mothers their education into the values of white society was deemed essential to enable successful assimilation. Girls in service were supposed to receive a wage but often this was retained by their employer and not passed on. Dowling points out it is also a history of Stolen wages.

 

Michael Cook (b. Australia 1968) Bidjara people, south-west Queensland 'Object (table)' 2015

 

Michael Cook (Australian, b. 1968)
Bidjara people, south-west Queensland
Object (table)
2015
Inkjet print on Hahnemühle cotton rag (ed. 2/4 + 2AP)
140.0 x 99.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and THIS IS NO FANTASY + dianne tanzer gallery, Melbourne

 

 

Michael Cook’s photographic tableau ‘turns the table’ on racism. By depicting the body of a white woman as a functional object in service to others, Cook considers the dehumanisation and objectification of one race of people by another in the history of slavery.

The double portrait on the back wall is by Johann Zoffany from 1778, and features Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761-1804) who was born into slavery in the West Indies. The daughter of an African mother, her father was an English naval officer who left her to the care of his uncle, Lord William Murray, where she was raised as an equal with Murray’s niece. Murray was instrumental in outlawing slavery in the United Kingdom in 1772. In the painting Zoffany depicts the two women standing together, the niece affectionately reaching out to Belle. Hence Cook’s afternoon tea is also a reminder that prejudice and racial inequality can be surmounted.

 

Yenny Huber (b. Austria 1980; arr. Australia 2000) 'Room No. 14' 2006

 

Yenny Huber (b. Austria 1980; arr. Australia 2000)
Room No. 14
2006
Digital print on aluminium panel (ed. 1/6)
27.2 x 27.2cm
Warrnambool Art Gallery, Victoria

 

 

Underpinned by the belief that any one person is comprised of diverse, fragmentary and often illusory selves, Yenny Huber explores the various ego states that reside within. This photograph is a self portrait taken in a hotel room, but it is also an impersonation of an identity available to women. Tea-drinking was once described as ‘an infallible sign of an old maid’1 and in this work Huber offers us an image of a good Catholic girl, knees together, elbows in, sitting demurely on the couch sipping tea. It is an image of femininity constrained by the dictates of religion and outdated socially sanctioned ideals of respectable female behaviour.

  1. The Horsham Times, Victoria, 26 April 1898

 

Anne Zahalka (b. Australia 1957) 'Saturday 5.18 pm 1995' 1995 (printed 1997)

 

Anne Zahalka (Australian, b. 1957)
Saturday 5.18 pm 1995
1995 (printed 1997)
Type C photograph (ed AP)
125.0 x 162.0cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney Gift of the artist, 2011
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

 

 

Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery
Civic Reserve, Dunns Road, Mornington

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm

Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery website

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20
Jul
11

Review: ‘Paradise’ by Brook Andrew at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 18th June – 30th July 2011

 

Brook Andrew 'Paradise' installation at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Brook Andrew Paradise installation at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

 

This is a strong, refined photo-ethnographic exhibition by Brook Andrew at Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne, one that holds the viewers attention, an exhibition that is witty and inventive if sometimes veering too closely to the simplistic and didactic in some works.

Rare postcards of Indigenous peoples and their colonising masters and surrounded by thick polished wood frames (the naturalness of the wood made smooth and perfect) and coloured neon lights that map out the captured identities, almost like a highlighting texta and forms of urban graffiti. This device is especially effective in works such as Men and Women (both 2011, below) with their male and female neon forms, and Flow Chart (2011, below) that references an anthropological map.

Other works such as Monument 1 (2011, below) lay the postcards into the rungs of a small step ladder covered in white paint that has echoes of the colonisers renovation of suburban homes and becomes a metaphor for the Indigenous peoples being stepped on, oppressed and downtrodden. In a particularly effective piece, Monument 2 (2011, below) the viewer stares down into a black box with multiple layers of neon that spell out the words ‘I see you’ in the Wiradjuri language: we can relate this work to Lacan’s story of the sardine can, where the point of view of the text makes us, the viewer, seem rather out of place in the picture, an alien in the landscape. The text has us in its sights making us uncomfortable in our position.

The work Paradise (2011, six parts, above) can certainly be seen as paradise lost but the pairing of black / white / colour postcards is the most reductive of the whole exhibition vis a vis Indigenous peoples and the complex discourse involved in terms of oppression, exploitation, empowerment, identity, mining rights and land ownership. The two quotations below can be seen to be at opposite ends of the same axis in this discourse. My apologies for the long second quotation but it is important to understand the context of what Akiko Ono is talking about with regard to the production of Indigenous postcards.

 

White… has the strange property of directing our attention to color while in the very same movement it exnominates itself as a color. For evidence of this we need look no further than to the expression “people of color,” for we know very well that this means “not White.” We know equally well that the color white is the higher power to which all colors of the spectrum are subsumed when equally combined: white is the sum totality of light, while black is the total absence of light. In this way elementary optical physics is recruited to the psychotic metaphysics of racism, in which White is “all” to Black’s “nothing”…”

.
Victor Burgin 1

 

“In his study of Aboriginal photography, Peterson also looks at the dynamics of colonial power relations in which both European and Aboriginal subjects are constituted in and by their relations to each other. Peterson in the main writes about two different contexts of the usage of photography of Aboriginal people

1. popular usage of photographs, especially in the form of postcards in the early twentieth century (Peterson 1985, 2005)

2. anthropologists’ ethnographic involvement with photography (Peterson 2003, 2006).

Regarding the first, Peterson depicts how the discourses of atypical (that is, disorganised) family structures and destitution among Aboriginal people were produced and interacted with the prevalent moral discourses of the time. He makes an important remark about the interactive dimensions that existed between the photographer and the Aboriginal subject. Hand-printed postcards in the same period showed much more positive images of Aboriginal people (Peterson 2005: 18-22). These were ‘real’ photographs taken by the photographers who had daily interactions with Aboriginal people…

Peterson gives greater attention to photographs taken by anthropologists for scientific purposes, and in this second context provides a more detailed treatment of his insight regarding the discrepancies between the colonisers’ discourse and the actual visual knowledge that photography offers…

These two contexts are not, of course, mutually exclusive. By dealing with image ethics and the changing photographic contract, Peterson (2003) shows the interlocking formations of popular image, anthropological knowledge and Aboriginal self-representation. In particular, it is important to remember that Aboriginal people have not always rejected collaboration with and appropriation of the idioms of the coloniser. Aboriginal people were not bothered by posing for photographers to produce images such as ‘naked’ Aboriginal men and women in formal pose, accompanied by an ‘unlikely combination’ of weapons (Peterson 2005); and at times complex negotiations occurred between the photographer and the photographed – resulting in both consent and refusal (Peterson 2003: 123-31).

These anecdotes suggest the necessity of unravelling the ‘lived’ dimensions of colonial and / or racial subjugation and resistance to that subjugation from the site of their occurrence …

Rather than scrutinising the authenticity of Aboriginality or taking it for granted that ethnographic photography is doomed to reproduce a colonial or anthropological power structure, it is more important to attend to the ‘instances in which colonized subjects undertake to represent themselves in ways that engage with the colonizer’s own terms’, as Pratt (1992: 7, emphasis in the original) suggests. She proposes the term ‘autoethnography’ to refer to these instances: ‘If ethnographic texts are a means by which Europeans represent to themselves their (usually subjugated) others, autoethnographic texts are those the others construct in response to or in dialogue with those metropolitan representations’ (Pratt 1992).

.
Akiko Ono 2

 

The work Paradise buys into the first quotation in a big way, playing as it does with the idioms of black / white / colour. It can also be seen as a form of autoethnographic text that uses rare postcards to critique historical relations between peoples and cultures. What it does not do, I feel, is delve deeper to try to understand the “interlocking formations of popular image, anthropological knowledge and Aboriginal self-representation” and resistance to that subjugation from the site of their occurrence. As the quotation observes “Aboriginal people have not always rejected collaboration with and appropriation of the idioms of the coloniser” and it is important to understand how the disciplinary systems of the coloniser (the ethnographic documenting through photography) were turned on their head to empower Indigenous people who undertake to represent themselves in ways that engage with the coloniser’s own terms. Nothing is ever just black and white. It is the interstitial spaces between that are always the most interesting.

In conclusion this an elegant exhibition of old and new, an autoethnographic text that seeks to address critical issues that look back at us and say – ‘I see you’.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

1. Burgin, Victor. In/Different Spaces: Place and Memory in Visual Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995, p. 131

2. Ono, Akiko. “Who Owns the ‘De-Aboriginalised’ Past? Ethnography meets photography: a case study of Bundjalung Pentecostalism,” in Musharbash, Yasmine and Barber, Marcus (eds.,). Ethnography & the Production of Anthropological Knowledge: Essays in honour of Nicolas Peterson. The Australian National University E Press [Online] Cited 16/07/2011 (no longer available online)

  • Peterson, N. 1998. “Welfare colonialism and citizenship: politics, economics and agency,” in N. Peterson and W. Sanders (eds), Citizenship and Indigenous Australians: Changing Conceptions and Possibilities, pp. 101-17. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Peterson, N. 1999. “Hunter-gatherers in first world nation states: bringing anthropology home.” Bulletin of the National Museum of Ethnology 23 (4): 847-61.
  • Peterson, N. 2003. “The changing photographic contract: Aborigines and image ethics,” in C. Pinney and N. Peterson (eds), Photography’s Other Histories, pp. 119-45. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Peterson, N. 2005. “Early 20th century photography of Australian Aboriginal families: illustration or evidence?” Visual Anthropology Review 21 (1-2): 11-26.
  • Peterson, N. 2006. “Visual knowledge: Spencer and Gillen’s use of photography in The Native Tribes of Central Australia.” Australian Aboriginal Studies (1): 12-22
  • Pratt, M. L. 1992. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writings and Transculturation. London: Routledge

.
Footnote 1. Peterson has built up a collection of process-printed (that is, mass-produced) postcard images and hand-printed images dating from 1900 to 1920 (that is, real photographic postcards), over 20 years, during which time he obtained a copy every time he saw a new image. He feels confident that he has seen two-thirds of the process-printed picture postcards from the period although it is harder to estimate how many hand-printed images were circulating (Peterson 2005: 25n.3). He had a collection of 528 process-printed postcards (Peterson 2005: 25) and 272 hand-printed photographs (p. 18) by 2005.

.
Many thankx to Olivia Radonich for her help and to Tolarno Galleries for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Images courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne. Photos by Christian Capurro.

 

 

Brook Andrew 'Paradise' installation at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Brook Andrew Paradise installation at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Brook Andrew. 'Paradise 1 (red)' 2011

 

Brook Andrew (Australian, b. 1970)
Paradise 1 (red)
2011
Rare postcards, sapele, and neon
24.5 x 28.5 x 8 cm

 

Brook Andrew. 'Paradise 2 (orange)' 2011

 

Brook Andrew (Australian, b. 1970)
Paradise 2 (orange)
2011
Rare postcards, sapele, and neon
24.5 x 34 x 8 cm

 

Brook Andrew. 'Paradise 3 (yellow)' 2011

 

Brook Andrew (Australian, b. 1970)
Paradise 3 (yellow)
2011
Rare postcards, sapele, and neon
24.5 x 28.5 x 8 cm

 

Brook Andrew. 'Paradise 4 (green)' 2011

 

Brook Andrew (Australian, b. 1970)
Paradise 4 (green)
2011
Rare postcards, sapele, and neon
25 x 33.5 x 8 cm

 

Brook Andrew. 'Paradise 5 (magenta)' 2011

 

Brook Andrew (Australian, b. 1970)
Paradise 5 (magenta)
2011
Rare postcards, sapele, and neon
24.5 x 28 x 8

 

Brook Andrew Flow Chart 2011

 

Brook Andrew (Australian, b. 1970)
Flow Chart
2011
Rare postcards, sapele and neon
283 x 449.5 x 8.5 cm

 

Brook Andrew 'Paradise' installation at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Brook Andrew Paradise installation at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Brook Andrew 'Men' 2011

 

Brook Andrew (Australian, b. 1970)
Men
2011
Rare postcards, sapele, and neon
82 x 264 x 12.5 cm

 

Brook Andrew 'Women' 2011

 

Brook Andrew (Australian, b. 1970)
Women
2011
Rare postcards, sapele, and neon
179 x 179 x 6 cm

 

Brook Andrew 'Women' 2011

 

Brook Andrew (Australian, b. 1970)
Women (detail)
2011
Rare postcards, sapele, and neon
179 x 179 x 6 cm

 

 

Tolarno Galleries is pleased to present Paradise, a major solo exhibition by Brook Andrew. Widely regarded as a multi-disciplinary artist, Brook Andrew’s Jumping Castle War Memorial was a highlight of the 17th Biennale of Sydney. Recently his major installation, Ancestral Worship 2010, was included in 21st Century: Art in the First Decade at Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane. His powerful new installation – Marks and Witness: A Lined crossing in Tribute to William Barak 2011 – was commissioned by the National Gallery of Victoria and is currently on display at Federation Square, Melbourne.

Paradise expands Brook Andrew’s interest in forgotten histories. His new works ask us to think about what has disappeared from our worlds, literally, and also from our consciousness. The exhibition features a number of assemblages made in neon and wood and incorporating rare postcards and photographs collected over many years. Men 2011 includes the original postcard that became the source for Sexy and Dangerous, Andrew’s iconic work of 1995.

Brook Andrew’s continuing search for curious portrait images from the 19th and early 20th century represents his fascination with the way the camera has documented a particular ‘colonial’ gaze and an interest in the exotic. Outlining or highlighting these images in glorious colored neon emphasizes this point.

However bright the neon, Brook Andrew’s works are characterised by a formal beauty and simplicity that explores conceptually complex ideas and themes. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Monument 4, a ‘boomerang bar’ or Monument 2, a black lacquer box of neon containing the words ‘I see you’ in Wiradjuri. Gazing into this ‘well of words’ is like looking into infinity.

Brook Andrew’s work is held in every major collection in Australia. An important survey of his work: Brook Andrew Eye to Eye was presented by Monash University Museum of Art in 2007. In 2008 his work was showcased in Theme Park at AAMU Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art in The Netherlands. Major publications accompanied both of these solo exhibitions.”

Press release from Tolarno Galleries

 

Brook Andrew 'Monument 2' 2011

 

Brook Andrew (Australian, b. 1970)
Monument 2
2011
Black lacquer, wood, perspex, neon, mirror and wire
38 x 99 x 87 cm

 

Brook Andrew 'Monument 2' 2011 (detail)

 

Brook Andrew (Australian, b. 1970)
Monument 2 (detail)
2011
Black lacquer, wood, perspex, neon, mirror and wire
38 x 99 x 87 cm

 

Brook Andrew. '18 lives in Paradise' Single box detail

 

Brook Andrew (Australian, b. 1970)
18 lives in Paradise
Single box detail
2011

 

 

The basic unit used in 18 Lives in Paradise is a cardboard printed box 50 x 50 x 50 cm. The boxes are the building blocks for a sculpture, wall or any other structure. The box is also a parody of the courier box – those containers daily transported around the globe in the vast movement of lives and identities today. What was thought of as fixed may not be so.

The images are sourced from postcards. The postcards range from the early to mid-twentieth century and form part of a worldwide curiosity in indigenous people, circus acts and personalities, environment and resources … The images come together as an assemblage of ‘freaks’ and represent the collision paths of indigenous and non-indigenous cultures; those being documented out of curiosity and those belonging to dominant cultures who have used the land and its people for entertainment and wealth.

18 Lives in Paradise can form a column or wall. It can be a barrier, a beacon or epitaph. En masse, the boxes are a symbol of many lives whose identities are sometimes twisted for the gaze of the curious world.

Brook Andrew 2011

 

Brook Andrew 'Monument 1' 2011

 

Brook Andrew (Australian, b. 1970)
Monument 1
2011
Black lacquer, are postcards, wood, mirror and metal
104.5 x 69.5 x 58 cm

 

 

Tolarno Galleries
Level 4, 104 Exhibition Street
Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
Phone: +61 3 9654 6000

Opening hours:
Tues – Fri 10 am – 5 pm
Sat 1 pm – 5 pm

Tolarno Galleries website

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29
Nov
09

Review: ‘Emily Kame Kngwarreye: The Person and her Paintings’ at DACOU Aboriginal Art, Port Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 29th October – 6th December 2009

 

 

Emily Kame Kngwarreye (Australian, 1910-1996)
My Country
1996
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas

 

 

“One can theorise about beauty all day, but words are weak and at day’s end one will go out into the blue and golden and multifarious world, and one will know with the responsive heart, before there is time for words, what is and isn’t beautiful.”

.
Leo Rubinfien1

 

 

There are certain existential experiences in art one will always remember:

.
The maelstrom of convulsive colours in the paintings of J. M. W. Turner at the Tate in London

Being alone in a gallery at the Louvre with six self-portraits by Rembrandt and embracing their inner humanity

Sitting in the Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris and being surrounded by the elemental forces of Monet’s panels of Nymphéas

Listening to “Sorrowful Songs” from the Symphony No. 3 by Gorecki

.
to name but a few.

Added to this list would be my experience of this exhibition of paintings by Emily Kame Kngwarreye.

It was a privilege to spend time alone with the work, just wandering around the gallery that is situated in an industrial estate in Port Melbourne. It is difficult for me to describe the experience such was the connection I had with the work, with the earth. I am emotional even writing about it. Standing in front of these paintings all pretensions of existence, all trappings of society, dissolve in colour, in presence.

I am a naturalised Australian having been born in England; I have never been to the far desert. This does not matter. What I felt, what I experienced was a connection to the land, to the stories that Emily has told in these paintings. We all come from the earth and return to it.

The paintings were painted horizontally (like the painter Jackson Pollock who intuitively accessed the spiritual realm) and evidence a horizontal consciousness not a hierarchical one. Knowledge is not privileged over wisdom. There is a balance between knowledge and wisdom – the knowledge gained through a life well lived and the wisdom of ancient stories that represent the intimacy of living on this world. The patterns and diversities of life compliment each other, are in balance.

Wisdom comes from the Indo-European root verb weid, “to see,” the same root from which words like vision come.2 In this sense these are “Vedic” paintings in that they are ancient, sacred teachings, Veda meaning literally “I have seen.”

On this day I saw. I felt.

Rarely do I have such an emotional reaction to art. When it does happen it washes over me, it cleanses my soul and releases pent up emotions – about life, about mortality, about being.

As Cafe del Mar in one of their songs, “The Messenger” sing:

“We,
We got the feeling of Mystery,
We got the touch of humanity,
I know, we can’t live forever.”

.
Go and be touched.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

.
Thank you to Leanne Collier and DACOU Aboriginal Art for allowing me to reproduce the three large photographs of two Wildflower paintings and one My Country painting.

 

  1. Rubinfien, Leo. “Perfect Uncertainty: Robert Adams and the American West, (2002)” on Americansuburb X: Theory. [Online] Cited 22/11/2009 no longer available online
  2. Doczi, Gyorgy. The Power of Limits: Proportional Harmonies in Nature, Art and Architecture. Colorado: Shambala Publications, 1981, p. 127

 

 

Emily Kame Kngwarreye (Australian, 1910-1996)
My Country
1996
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas

 

 

Emily Kame Kngwarreye (Australian, 1910-1996)
My Country
1996
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas

 

 

Emily Kame Kngwarreye (Australian, 1910-1996)
My Country
1996
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas

 

 

Emily Kame Kngwarreye is Australia’s most important and famous female artist. Hailed as a modernist ‘genius’, she has been compared to Rothko and de Kooning. An Anmatyerre elder from Utopia in the remote central desert region of the Northern Territory, Emily first took up painting on canvas in her late 70’s. She quickly became one of the leaders in the contemporary Aboriginal art movement, transforming her style several times during her short career of eight years. Today she is known as one of the greatest abstract painters of the 20th century.

This important exhibition of over 80 pieces covering all significant series and periods of Emily Kngwarreye’s artistic career is the first commercial retrospective exhibition to be held since she passed away in 1996. It gives the public an outstanding chance to view and purchase works in each of her styles. DACOU has retained numerous magnificent pieces over the years that will be included in this exhibition, such as rarely seen works from Emily’s Ochre Series, created with ochre and charcoal she collected from her country. On show will be the sister painting to the famous Earth’s Creation (also titled Earth’s Creation, 1994, 4 panels, 211 x 596 cm) and just as splendid in colour and style.

Text from the DACOU Aboriginal Art website [Online] Cited 27/11/2009 no longer available online

 

 

Emily Kame Kngwarreye (Australian, 1910-1996)
Wildflower
1992
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas

 

 

Emily Kame Kngwarreye (Australian, 1910-1996)
Wildflower (detail)
1992
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas

 

 

Inspired by her cultural life as an Anmatyerre elder Emily produced over 3000 paintings over the course of her short eight-year painting career. Her lifelong custodianship of the women’s Dreaming sites of her clan country and in particular her yam Dreaming is the driving force behind her work (Kame meaning yam seed). Her work displays an instinct created by decades of making art for private purposes, drawing in soft earth and ritual body painting. Strong lineal structures whereupon individual dots overlap lines and appearing within others trace the appearance of seeds, plants and tracks on her country.

Text from the University of Canberra website [Online] Cited 11/05/2019

 

 

Emily Kame Kngwarreye (Australian, 1910-1996)
Wildflower
1994
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas

 

 

DACOU Aboriginal Art

This gallery has now closed.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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