Posts Tagged ‘painting

09
Nov
18

Exhibition: ‘Black Mist Burnt Country’ at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra

Exhibition dates: 24th August – 18th November 2018

Curator: JD Mittmann

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following post may contain images and voices of people who have died.

 

 

Rosemary Laing. 'One Dozen Considerations - Emu Totem I' 2013

 

Rosemary Laing (b. 1959)
One Dozen Considerations – Emu Totem I
2013
C type photograph
49 x 76 cm
© Rosemary Laing

 

 

The empty yet altered landscape takes on different moods with Rosemary Laing’s, One Dozen Considerations Totem 1 – Emu (2013) monument marking the site of an weapon’s test with a British flag flying behind it. Both look like conqueror’s claims to territory, powerful images of the attempts to colonise Indigenous space, to write a colonial history through markers of significance, to write out the Indigenous voice but at the same time to appropriate Indigenous ideas and language. (Larissa Behrendt on the Artlink website)

 

 

Field of thunder ~ big devil spirit ~ colonial fireworks

a/atom

late 15th century: from Old French atome, via Latin from Greek atomos ‘indivisible’, based on a- ‘not’ + temnein ‘to cut’.

 

a/secret

something that is not properly understood; a mystery

 

a/secretion

from French sécrétion or Latin secretio(n- ) ‘separation’, from secret- ‘moved apart’, from the verb secernere

 

a/desecration

late 17th century: from de- (expressing reversal) + a shortened form of consecrate

 

a/segregation

the enforced separation of different racial groups in a country, community, or establishment

 

Lest we forget what was bequeathed the land, Traditional Owners and servicemen by the British and Australian governments. Death, disease, displacement from Country and radioactivity so they can never return. Literally sickening. Shame, shame and more shame.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the National Museum of Australia for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

There was also a lot of tearing down of Aboriginal sites according to what I’ve heard and just sort of this blinkered vision, and I think it’s a horrible education to learn that’s the way Aboriginal in those areas were perceived… and then you look at the ramifications of the health of both the people and the land and how that has been totally compromised…

Whether it came to treatment of Aboriginal people or whether it came to treatment of the environment. Hopefully [the exhibition will] engender something that people will fight, fight for their rights and fight for their land.

.
Waanyi artist Judy Watson

 

 

Jessie Boylan. 'Yami Lester at Walatinna Station, South Australia' 2006

 

Jessie Boylan (b. 1986)
Yami Lester at Walatinna Station, South Australia
2006
Digital inkjet print
85 x 85 cm
© Jessie Boylan

 

 

Yami Lester, Walatinna Station, South Australia, 2006 – In 1953, Yami, a Yankunytjatjara man, was ten years old, living at Wallatinna Station when Totem One went off, it was part of a series of atmospheric atomic bombs that the British and Australian governments were testing during the 50’s and 60’s at Emu Field and Maralinga in South Australia and the Monte Bello Islands off the West Australian coast. He was blinded not long after the fallout. (Jessie Boylan)

 

 

Yami Lester (Boylan)
Yunkunytjatjara man Yami Lester talks about the mysterious poisonous ‘black mist’ that badly affected Aboriginal area after the Totem 1 atomic test in 1952

 

 

At Maralinga, the tests caused adverse effects on both the local people and military personnel, but in many cases it was difficult to determine the extent to which people had been affected. But for Yankunytjatjara Elder Tjamu Yami Lester it was devastating. He was blinded at 10 years old as a result of the ‘black mist’ that descended onto his country.

He died last year at the age of 75.

Much of his life was spent fighting for people affected by nuclear testing, subsequently becoming the public face of a tireless campaign. He led the push for the 1984 Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia, which resulted in a clean-up of the testing ground and compensation for the Anangu people. While reparations can never repair the damage inflicted upon Yami Lester, his people and country, his remarkable legacy lives on.

Extract from Nakari Thorpe. ‘Art beneath the ‘black mist’ of Maralinga’, on the NITV website 27 September 2018

 

Blak Douglas. 'Tjarutja Tragedy' 2016

 

Blak Douglas (b. 1970)
Tjarutja Tragedy
2016
Tragedy
Synthetic polymer on canvas
100 x 200 cm
© Blak Douglas

 

 

The burnt, barren trees in Blak Douglas’s Tjarutja Tragedy are bent, leaning to one side with their branches split in two representing the letter Y.

“That’s because I’m asking why did this happened to us people?”

The Dunghutti artist’s work captures a land destroyed by atomic testing in Australia and speaks to the deep displacement of its Traditional Owners.

“I wanted to create a piece that really encapsulated the return of blackfellas to their country when your country has been blasted. It’s metaphoric for a lot of blackfellas… [And] effectively it’s a metaphor for the continent en masse, and how much of us can’t return to our tribal homelands including myself.”

“Whole peoples were dispossessed from their country and this was done complicity on behalf of the British government and the Australian people really had no say in it.” …

Blak Douglas says his own work was inspired by Mr Lester’s spirited crusade [see above].

“I remember seeing images of him and I googled Maralinga on YouTube a long time ago and I saw Uncle Yami as he was blinded as result of the atomic tests,” he said.

“I’ve dedicated this painting to that mob and I’m proud of that and I’m sure that Uncle Yami, or that mob there when I meet them in due time, will be embracing of it.”

He says Maralinga was one of the “worst atrocities any blackfella has suffered.”

“To blow bombs like that on country and to name them gammin white names or code names that’s just the epitome of colonial fireworks,” he says.

Extract from Nakari Thorpe. ‘Art beneath the ‘black mist’ of Maralinga’, on the NITV website 27 September 2018

 

 

Blak Douglas
Sydney-based artist Blak Douglas talks about his painting ‘Tjarutja Tragedy’ which is part of the exhibition Black Mist Burnt Country

 

Paul Ogier. 'One Tree (former emu field atom test site)' 2010

 

Paul Ogier (b. 1974, New Zealand)
One Tree (former emu field atom test site)
2010
Carbon pigment on rag paper
94 x 117 cm
© Paul Ogier

 

 

An award-winning national touring exhibition of artworks by over 30 Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, commemorating the British atomic tests in Australia in the 1950s, opens today at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

Black Mist Burnt Country features artworks from the past seven decades, selected from public and private collections, including works by Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Pam Debenham, Toni Robertson, Rosemary Laing, Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown, Judy Watson, Hilda Moodoo and Yvonne Edwards.

Developed by the Burrinja Dandenong Ranges Cultural Centre, Black Mist Burnt Country revisits the history of the British atomic test program at Maralinga, Emu Field and Montebello Islands and examines the impact on people and land, as well as its on-going legacies.

It presents works across the mediums of painting, printmaking, sculpture, photography, new media and music, while exploring the varied perspectives and creative approaches of artists from post-Second World War modernists to contemporary artists.

A variety of interactive elements enable visitors to gain insights into the social, political and environmental dimensions, while placing the Australian atomic tests in the context of the nuclear arms race and its present-day realities.

Margo Neale, Head of the National Museum’s Indigenous Knowledge Centre and Advisor to the Director, said, ‘This potent exhibition by a cast of great artists broaches a number of thresholds in the telling of Australian history through art, and the role of museums in bringing these relatively little-known stories to life. These visual stories penetrate the heart while revealing little-known truths of human consequence about a tragic event in our shared history.’

Burrinja exhibition curator JD Mittmann said, ‘It is surprising how few people are aware that atomic bombs were exploded in Australia, and how little they know about the dislocation of Aboriginal people, the exposure of Australian servicemen and the contamination of the land. This exhibition offers some remarkable insights into a chapter of our history that has long-lasting consequences, while it poses some important questions in relation to contemporary nuclear issues’.

The project has been produced by Burrinja Dandenong Ranges Cultural Centre, Upwey, Victoria and has been on tour nationally since September 2016, when it marked the 60th anniversary of the first British test at Maralinga. The project has been assisted by the Australian Government’s Visions of Australia program and developed through the Exhibition Development Fund of National Exhibition Touring Support (NETS) Victoria. The project has also received financial assistance from the Gordon Darling Foundation.

Black Mist Burnt Country received the 2017 Museums Australia Victoria Archival Survival Award (Small Museums) and a Highly Commended at the Museums Australia National Conference (Touring and Temporary Exhibitions).

Press release from the National Museum of Australia

 

Karen Standke. 'Road to Maralinga II' 2007

 

Karen Standke (b. 1973, Germany)
Road to Maralinga II
2007
Oil on canvas
112 x 85 cm
© Karen Standke

 

Kate Shaw. 'Charcoal, UK: Maralinga' 2012

 

Kate Shaw (b. 1969)
Charcoal, UK: Maralinga
2012
Acrylic and resin on board
120 x 240 cm
© Kate Shaw

 

Adam Norton. 'Prohibited Area' 2010

 

Adam Norton (1964, England)
Prohibited Area
2010
Acrylic paint on board, wooden poles and bolts
240 x 122x 7 cm
© Adam Norton

 

 

Adam Norton
Sydney-based artist Adam Norton talks about his work Prohibited Area, which is part of a series of reproduced signs he encountered in “nuclear badlands”.

 

'Maralinga Prohibited Area sign on Emu/Nawa Road' 1974

 

Maralinga Prohibited Area sign on Emu/Nawa Road
1974
National Archives of Australia NAA: A6457, P042

 

 

British nuclear tests at Maralinga

Historical context

On 3 October 1952, the United Kingdom tested its first nuclear weapon, named “Hurricane”, at the Monte Bello Islands off the coast of Western Australia. A year later the first nuclear test on the Australian mainland was Totem 1 (9.1 kilotonnes of TNT (38 TJ)) at Emu Field in the Great Victoria Desert, South Australia, on 15 October 1953. Totem 2 (7.1 kilotonnes of TNT (30 TJ)) followed two weeks later on 27 October. The Supply Minister, Howard Beale, stated in 1955 that “England has the know how; we have the open spaces, much technical skill and a great willingness to help the Motherland. Between us we should help to build the defences of the free world, and make historic advances in harnessing the forces of nature.”

The British government formally requested a permanent test facility on 30 October 1953. Due to concerns about nuclear fallout from the previous tests at Emu Field and the site’s inadequate infrastructure and water supply, the recently surveyed Maralinga site was selected for this purpose. The new site was announced in May 1955. It was developed as a joint, co-funded facility between the British and Australian governments.

Prior to selection, the Maralinga site was inhabited by the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal people, for whom it had a great spiritual significance. Many were relocated to a new settlement at Yalata, and attempts were made to curtail access to the Maralinga site. These were often unsuccessful. (My emphasis) …

A Department of Veterans’ Affairs study concluded that “Overall, the doses received by Australian participants were small. … Only 2% of participants received more than the current Australian annual dose limit for occupationally exposed persons (20 mSv).” However, such findings are contested. Australian servicemen were ordered to: repeatedly fly through the mushroom clouds from atomic explosions, without protection; and to march into ground zero immediately after bomb detonation. Airborne drifts of radioactive material resulted in “radioactive rain” being dropped on Brisbane and Queensland country areas. A 1999 study for the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association found that 30 per cent of involved veterans had died, mostly in their fifties, from cancers.

Successive Australian governments failed to compensate servicemen who contracted cancers following exposure to radiation at Maralinga. However, after a British decision in 1988 to compensate its own servicemen, the Australian Government negotiated compensation for several Australian servicemen suffering from two specific conditions, leukaemia (except lymphatic leukaemia) and the rare blood disorder multiple myeloma.

One author suggests that the resettlement and denial of aboriginal access to their homelands “contributed significantly to the social disintegration which characterises the community to this day. Petrol sniffing, juvenile crime, alcoholism and chronic friction between residents and the South Australian police have become facts of life.” In 1994, the Australian Government reached a compensation settlement with Maralinga Tjarutja, which resulted in the payment of $13.5 million in settlement of all claims in relation to the nuclear testing. (My emphasis)

 

Media coverage

According to Liz Tynan from James Cook University, the Maralinga tests were a striking example of what can happen when the popular media are unable to report on activities that the government may be trying to hide. Maralinga was an example of extreme secrecy, but by the late 1970s there was a marked change in how the Australian media covered the British nuclear tests. Some resourceful investigative journalists emerged, whistle-blowers such as Avon Hudson [see photograph below] spoke out and political scrutiny became more intense. The investigative journalist Brian Toohey ran a series of stories in the Australian Financial Review in October 1978, based in part on a leaked Cabinet submission.

In June 1993, New Scientist journalist Ian Anderson wrote an article entitled “Britain’s dirty deeds at Maralinga” and several related articles. They are a detailed analysis of the legacy of Vixen B and the Australian government’s prolonged negotiations with the United Kingdom on cleaning up Maralinga and sharing the cost of “safe-sealing” waste plutonium. Previously, much of this highly toxic nuclear waste had simply been lightly bulldozed into the soil rather than buried in deep, secure, purpose-built, concrete bunkers. In 1993, Anderson won two Michael Daley Awards for his Maralinga articles.

Maralinga: Australia’s Nuclear Waste Cover-up is a book by Alan Parkinson about the clean-up following the British nuclear tests at Maralinga, published in 2007. Parkinson, a nuclear engineer, explains that the clean-up of Maralinga in the late 1990s was compromised by cost-cutting and simply involved dumping hazardous radioactive debris in shallow holes in the ground. Parkinson states that “What was done at Maralinga was a cheap and nasty solution that wouldn’t be adopted on white-fellas land.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Australian Atomic Confessions

Sacrificial Lambs on the High Alter of Science

Australian servicemen and nomadic Aboriginals reveal the devastating effects of atomic weapons testing carried out in Australia by the British during the 1950s. For the first time, members of the Royal Australian Army, Air Force and Navy describe former top secret aspects of those tests. With the use of rare archival film and photographs, as well as eye witness accounts, Australian Atomic Confessions chronicles the hidden history and exposes previously hidden Government cover-ups. The consequences of nuclear testing imposed on the Australian people and land are not just skeletons of the past. Sydneys’ new nuclear reactor continues to pose a threat to the environment and civilians, and the problem of removing and disposing of the old nuclear reactor remains an unanswered question. Prominent Aboriginal Elders also warn that an imminent catastrophe may occur in Central Australia as a result of two uranium mines. Australian Atomic Confessions is a chilling expose of nuclear testing and its damaging legacy, one that continues to this day.

 

Jessie Boylan. 'Portrait of a whistleblower: Avon Hudson was a leading aircraftman for the RAAF during the nuclear tests in Maralinga' 2011-2015

 

Jessie Boylan (b. 1986)
Portrait of a whistleblower: Avon Hudson was a leading aircraftman for the RAAF during the nuclear tests in Maralinga
2011-2015
Image: Burrinja Cultural Centre

 

 

This series chronicles Avon Hudson’s life, from early years growing up in regional South Australia, to service in the Royal Australian Air Force as a Leading Aircraftman, through the experience of British atomic bomb tests, to his “whistle blower” act of revealing Maralinga’s deadly legacy.

What Avon knew, and was prepared to tell publically about Maralinga, contributed to the establishment of the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia (1984-85). His motivation was to put a halt to government plans to return Maralinga to its traditional owners, pending a full clean-up of land still contaminated by radioactive debris.

The story of nuclear testing is unknown to most Australians. Between 1952 and 1963, after a decision made by Prime Minister Menzies alone, nine atomic bombs were exploded and hundreds of ‘minor’ experiments were conducted at the British-run testing ranges at Emu and Maralinga in South Australia. Three bombs were also exploded at Monte Bello Islands in Western Australia.

The impacts of these experiments continue to play out in the ill health and changed lives of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, who were exposed to or involved in the tests, over multiple generations. The tests have also left a deep-future legacy of environmental contamination.

It is a portrait of someone with a photographic memory, capable of grasping and articulating every detail of the atomic age as he experienced it.

It depicts a committed citizen and serviceman, husband and father, always an advocate and an activist, who in civilian life became a Wakefield councillor for over 20 years. It shows a practical man – mechanic, wood-turner and furniture maker; and portrays a nature-enthusiast and an educator on environmental and social issues.

It is also a portrait of someone who has invariably lived by his convictions – as that’s what whistleblowers do. Since the 1970s, Avon has campaigned for recognition of nuclear veterans and civilian personnel. As his co-authored book “Beyond Belief” records, “His life has been deeply affected by a sense of injustice and by the callousness of successive Australian and British governments ignoring the plight of those caught up in ‘the grand game’.”

This series is a recognition and celebration of the significant role Avon has played South Australia’s unfolding atomic history. His life as an activist seems to belong to the present, as the future of nuclear science and technology is considered anew.

Text from the Jessie Boylan website (with permission)

 

Boylan is a photomedia artist who explores issues relating to human impacts on the land and communities in relation to environmental and social devastation – nuclear testing, mining and war. Through her work Boylan’s has expressed ideas of history and place in relation to contemporary Australian identity, community and activism. She recently completed her MFA on the topic of photography, the campsite and the anti-nuclear movement in Australia.

Jessie Boylan is a key member of the Atomic Photographers Guild, an international group who aim to render visible all aspects of the nuclear age. She won first place in Images of Justice at Adelaide University 2015 and has been a finalist for the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award in 2007, 2009 & 2012, the Spirit of Youth Award in 2009, the Head On Alternative Portrait Awards, ACP, Sydney in 2009 & 2010. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Craig McDonald. 'Maralinga Test Dummy' 2010

 

 

Hugh Ramage. 'Taranaki' 2014

 

Hugh Ramage (b. New Zealand 1958, emigrated to Sydney in 1978)
Taranaki
2014
Oil on canvas
42 x 37 cm
© Hugh Ramage

 

Taranaki test site-and cleanup-area

 

Taranaki test site-and cleanup-area
(image source: Google Earth)

 

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown
Pitjantjatjara artist Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown talks about his country and the effects the atomic tests had on it

 

Jonathan Brown was removed from his parents at Ooldea and grew up with foster parents in Melbourne and Sydney. At a later stage of his life he located his parents at Yalata and learnt about the atomic tests, the removal of his people from their traditional lands and the destruction of country. Jonathan first came to recognition as artist when he worked with Lin Onus for the 1990 exhibition Balance at the Queensland Art Gallery. His later paintings were heavily influenced by the experiences of the Pitjantjatjara / Anangu which became the focus of his work. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga before the Atomic Test' 1994

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga before the Atomic Test
1994
Ochres, sand and kapok on linen
227 x 205 cm
Yarra Ranges McLeod Gift Collection

 

 

Much of the exhibition centres on the story of artist Jonathan Kumintjara Brown who was removed from his family at Ooldea Mission, located on the transcontinental railway near Watson about 250 kilometres west of Ceduna.

Three of his works feature in the exhibition, and grainy textures bring his pieces to life. One in particular, Black Rain, powerfully illustrates the destruction of country through a black sky punctured by white thick stripes of rain and cloud.

“He did it with such a great sense of power and visual impact,” says Burrinja Executive Director Ross Farnell.

“He would depict the landscape and then basically throw a whole heap of ochre, sand and glue over the top of it and then just obliterate most of the painting and then go that’s Maralinga after the test, ‘that’s what happened to my country’,” Mr Farnell told NITV News.

Extract from Nakari Thorpe. ‘Art beneath the ‘black mist’ of Maralinga’, on the NITV website 27 September 2018

 

Jonathan’s story

One of the central stories of Black Mist Burnt Country is the story of artist Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. Jonathan was removed from his parents at Ooldea mission station at very early age and grew up with in a foster family in Melbourne and Sydney. At a later stage of his life he located his parents at Yalata and went back to be reunited with them.

The return to his people was traumatic. Neither could he speak Pitjantjatjara, nor did he know he had a brother. He learned about the removal of his people from their country and the destruction of country through atomic testing.

Fabian Peel, who worked as a nurse in the community at the time and is now director of Tullawon Health Clinic in Yalata, took Jonathan around the country. He remembers: “It was very painful. Jonathan cried all the way.”

Jonathan went on to make several paintings depicting the impacts of the nuclear testing program on Anangu and the land, some of which will be included in the exhibition.

Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga' 1992

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga
1992
Acrylic, sand and lizard skeleton on linen
Ebes Collection
© the artist estate
Photograph: Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga' (detail) 1992

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga (detail)
1992
Acrylic, sand and lizard skeleton on linen
Ebes Collection
© the artist estate

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga Atomic Test Dust Storm and Old Sites Significance' 1996

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga Atomic Test Dust Storm and Old Sites Significance
1996
Synthetic polymer paint, natural ochres and sand on canvas
122 x 92 cm
© the artist estate

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Frogmen' 1996

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Frogmen
1996
Synthetic polymer paint, natural ochre and sand on canvas
122 x 92 cm
© the artist estate

 

Kate Downhill. 'Operation Hurricane' 2013

 

Kate Downhill (b. 1955 England, emigrated to Australia 2009)
Operation Hurricane
2013
Acrylic on dress fabric laid on canvas
101 x 76 cm
© Kate Downhill

 

 

Kate studied graphic design at Newcastle-upon-Tyne College of Art and worked in London during the 1970s as an illustrator and layout artist in various publishing houses. In the 1980s she studied painting at Exeter College of Art, graduating with a BA in Fine Art and Literature and concentrated on her purely abstract paintings in the tradition of the St. Ives School of painters with whom she trained. In the mid 1990s her working style changed dramatically and abstraction became a background element in new works where a variety of figurative styles and painting techniques were used within the same image. Since then she has worked to combine both painterly and graphic imagery to narrative effect. A life-long interest in textiles, quilting and the language of stitching is also evident in her work.

Since emigrating to Australia Kate has been concentrating on a series of paintings whose theme is the fragmentary and personal nature of memory and the process of memorialisation, as with the paintings she presents in this exhibition. Here she is using the naive imagery of rural community quilting to bring together varied scraps of information and family anecdotes about the British Australian nuclear tests. Kate’s father was a seismologist for the Atomic Weapons Research Institute and he was closely involved in the development and testing of the H Bomb during the 1950s. Her work here is a deeply personal response to historical events. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

 

Kate Downhill
Kate Downhill talks about her father’s involvement in the British atomic test program as a seismologist and explains her painting’s reference to quilting.

 

Tjariya Stanley. 'Puyu - Black Mist' 2015

 

Tjariya Stanley
Puyu – Black Mist
2015
Acrylic on canvas
© Margo Birnberg and the artist

 

Hilda Moodoo and Jeffrey Quema. 'Destruction II' 2002

 

Hilda Moodoo (b. 1952) and Jeffrey Quema (1947-2009)
Destruction II
2002
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
101 x 122 cm
Santos Fund for Aboriginal Art 2002, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Courtesy of the artists

 

 

Hilda Moodoo painting began at Oak Valley in December 2001 when Victorian Yorta Yorta artist Lance Atkinson spent two months in the community teaching the technical skills for painting on canvas. Hilda Moodoo and Kunmanara Queama’s collaborative paintings Destruction I and II were included in the resulting Desert Oaks exhibition at the Adelaide Festival Centre in March 2002 and are now in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia. The Desert Oaks project was a deliberate expression of identity and an opportunity to pass on knowledge through painting. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

Queama, a Pitjantjatjara man, was born at Ooldea, on the eastern edge of the Nullabor Plain. With the dispersal of residents after the closure of the United Aborigines Mission (UAM) at Ooldea in 1952, he was sent to the Lutheran mission school at Koonibba, near Ceduna. He worked for many years on land conservation and management boards, and lobbied tirelessly for the return of the Maralinga-Tjarutja lands to the traditional owners. In 1984 the lands were been returned, and he and his wife Hilda Moodoo among others founded Oak Valley community, 150 kilometres northwest of Maralinga. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Arthur Boyd. 'Jonah on the Shoalhaven Outside the City' 1976

 

Arthur Boyd (1920-1999)
Jonah on the Shoalhaven Outside the City
1976
Oil on canvas
Bundanon Trust Collection
© Bundanon Trust

 

 

In Arthur Boyd’s Jonah on the Shoalhaven – Outside the City (1976), the iconic cloud sits on the horizon, almost like a puff of dust rising off the white sand. Boyd had been conscripted into the army and became a pacifist. For him, the threat of nuclear destruction sits in the backdrop, no less menacing than Nolan’s apocalyptic response two decades earlier. (Larissa Behrendt on the Artlink website)

 

Sidney Nolan. 'Central Desert Atomic Test' 1952-57

 

Sidney Nolan (1917-1992)
Central Desert Atomic Test
1952-57
Oil on canvas

 

 

Nolan’s landscape sits harsh and red under a blue sky and the mushroom cloud of the bomb. Nolan was living in London at the time but news of the tests started appearing in the media. The cloud and dust were added to one of Nolan’s desert paintings as an act of protest over the events taken place back in Australia and the addition turns a rugged landscape into an image that seethes with anger at the act of destruction. In Nolan’s landscape, the bomb looms large. (Larissa Behrendt on the Artlink website)

 

Toni Robertson. 'The Royal Nuclear Show - 6' 1981

 

Toni Robertson (b. 1953)
The Royal Nuclear Show – 6
1981
Screen print on paper (set of 6 screenprints)
Prints, screenprints, printed in colour inks, each from four hand-cut and three photo-stencils
Flinders University Art Museum Collection
Image courtesy of National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Toni Robertson studied fine arts at the University of Sydney in the 1970s and was a founding member of the influential Earthworks Poster Collective (1971-80) at the University’s Tin Sheds. Robertson’s work has appeared in many group exhibitions in the 1970s and 1980s, and along with Chips Mackinolty and others she is recognised as a leading figure in Australian political printmaking. Her work is held in many public collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Australian War Memorial, Artbank and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney as well as tertiary, state library and union collections. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Toni Robertson and Chips Mackinolty. 'Daddy, what did YOU do in the Nuclear War?' 1977

 

Toni Robertson and Chips Mackinolty
Toni Robertson
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | born 1953
Chips Mackinolty
Morwell, Victoria, Australia | born 1954
Earthworks Poster Collective
commenced 1971 – 1980 | poster design studio (organisation)
Tin Sheds Art Workshop
commenced 1969 | print workshop (organisation)
Daddy, what did YOU do in the Nuclear War?
1977
Prints, posters, screenprint, printed in colour inks, from multiple stencils
Printed image 73.4 h x 48.2 w cm
Sheet 76.2 h x 50.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Given in memory of Mitch Johnson 1988
© Toni Robertson

 

 

The political poster movement in Australia was at its height in the 1970s, supporting anti-war, anti-uranium, pro-land rights and pro-feminist causes. Members of the Earthworks Poster Collective, opposed to the egotism of individual artistic fame, worked from the Tin Sheds (University of Sydney Art Workshop). In Daddy what did you do in the nuclear war? Toni Robertson and Chips Mackinolty appropriated a British recruiting poster from the First World War, adapting the children’s bodies to reflect the genetic consequences of radiation.

Christine Dixon

 

Victorian-born artist Chips Mackinolty was involved in the campaigns against the war in Vietnam by producing protest posters. He was a key figure in the radical poster movement and was introduced to screen printing in Goulburn Street, Sydney. During the 1970s posters became an art form artists using the cheap posters as a political tool. The Earthworks Poster Collective, established in 1971, was the most active and well-known of these groups. Earthworks operated from the Sydney University Art Workshop, commonly known as the Tin Sheds, finally demolished in 2007. Mackinolty used sharp, flat colours and increasingly professional techniques to produce posters such as “For the man who said life wasn’t meant to be easy – make life impossible.” The poster is a multi-imaged send-up of former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. It was posted up at night around Sydney, helping to politicise a generation. His work is held in major national and international institutions. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Pam Debenham. 'No nukes in the Pacific' 1984

 

Pam Debenham
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia | born 1955
Tin Sheds Posters
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | commenced 1984 (organisation)
Tin Sheds Art Workshop
commenced 1969 | print workshop (organisation)
No nukes in the Pacific
1984
Prints, posters, screenprint, printed in colour inks, from multiple stencils
Printed image 88.0 h x 62.0 w cm
Sheet 91.0 h x 65.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, purchased 1990

Pam Debenham. 'No Nukes No Tests' 1984

 

Pam Debenham
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia | born 1955
Tin Sheds Posters
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | commenced 1984 (organisation)
Tin Sheds Art Workshop
commenced 1969 | print workshop (organisation)
No Nukes No Tests
1984
Screenprint on paper
© Pam Debenham
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Adam Norton. 'Prohibited Area' 2010

 

Adam Norton (b. 1964, England)
Prohibited Area
2010
Acrylic paint on board, wooden poles and bolts,
240 x 122x 7 cm
© Adam Norton

 

 

National Museum of Australia
Lawson Crescent
Acton Peninsula, Canberra

Opening hours:
Daily 9am-5pm

Black Mist Burnt Country website

National Museum of Australia website

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24
Jun
18

Review: ‘DEEPER DARKER BRIGHTER’ at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 12th May – 1st July 2018

Artists: Pamela Bain and Carolyn Lewens
Curator: Stephanie Sacco

 

 

Installation view of gallery one at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

 

Installation view of gallery one at the exhibition Deeper Darker Brighter at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne
Photo: Christian Capurro

 

 

It is a great pleasure to be able to post on my friend Carolyn Lewens’ joint exhibition with Pamela Bains, DEEPER DARKER BRIGHTER at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, both Visiting Fellows at Swinburne University’s Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing.

I have known Carolyn since we were both studying photography at Brighton Tech under the tutelage of Peter Barker in 1989. Nearly 30 years later, we are both still making art and writing about art, which says a lot for our perseverance and perspicacity as both artists and human beings. There are not a lot of us left from those days, photographers who are still being creative, still following the path of enquiry with dedication and insight into the condition of (our) becoming.

In this latest iteration, an exhibition which investigates our place in the universe, Carolyn and Pamela offer a “creative response to an astrophysics program that is searching for the fastest explosions in the universe… an immersive and stimulating space wherein fresh awareness of the cosmos and science is mediated via aesthetic and conceptual means.” As the catalogue essay by Associate Professor Christopher Fluke observes, “Science and Art are both highly creative endeavours, that cannot succeed without research, experimentation, and an acceptance that some ideas will not work.” And so with this exhibition also. Some ideas work, some ideas do not.

The highlight for me in the first two galleries were the model telescopes, observatories and types of star made by research staff and postgraduate students in weekly workshops with the two artists. It was fascinating to see how modern astronomers see their own building blocks, fantastical human creations, architectural marvels made specifically to capture faint electromagnetic signals from the sky; and stars that can only be “captured” on photographic plates which record features invisible to the human eye. Akin to naive or “outsider” art (I hate that term but there is no better one at present to describe the work), these sculptures possess an essential presence in the “hands on” nature of their construction. Only in the darkened third gallery does the work of the two main artists coalesce, cosmogrify (I know that’s not a real word, but we are “out of this world”, as in cosmography, the branch of science which deals with the general features of the universe) into a satisfying whole. And what an out of this world gallery it is!

Pamela’s wondrous paintings, full of colour and paint splatters, transmogrify their earthly origins into music from the stars, while the paintings themselves are physically transformed and printed as digital photographs: in other words, there is a double transmogrification of concept and aesthetics going on here, moving from hand to universe and from analog to digital. As Fluke states, “The death event and the life giving properties shared between supernovae and our own physical outcome often reside in the subtext of Pam’s work, offering scope for the contemplation of ourselves as celestial entities.” These “creations” are illuminated by spotlights on one side of gallery three, and their multi-hued presence play off Carolyn’s blue cyanotype photogram images digitally printed on cotton rag on the other side of the long gallery – the exchange of constructed cosmos’ making for a truly immersive, quite moving experience.

Carolyn’s camera-less photograms use cyanotype photography, a process invented by astronomer Sir John Herschel in the early 1840s, so this process is entirely appropriate for her investigation into the “metaphors of light and the mysteries of shadows.” As Fluke notes, “The creations that emerge are a direct response to the presence or absence of light, generating a shadowy imprint of more complexity than we can perceive. Links to photosynthesis via the cyanotype process mean her work is more about life than death.” Carolyn uses objects and materials which are often dense – folded and layered – which she then over exposes in order to get detail in some areas of the image. The resultant cyanotypes are then digital remastered (but not manipulated) in Photoshop, so that the resultant prints do not loose that beautiful blue that is the signature of the cyanotype process. Here again, transmogrification becomes a happening concept – an idea, a concept uses photosynthesis, the light of the sun, to create images in an early photographic process which are then scientifically remastered into digital photographs.

In both artists work, there is evidence of the ineffable, the unknowable, which is what makes this gallery so special. These works have been created out of the explosions of human imagination and creativity (like little big bangs) after observing light from stars millions of miles away, light that may no longer exist since it takes millions of years to reach us here on Earth. The light that these artists and astronomers observe may no longer exist, it is just an after image of a physical presence that may be long gone. To then create these universal emanations as intimations of the retina of the eye, being underwater, in the womb, or being a plant (think the tactile qualities of Karl Blossfeldt’s photographs); or cells of the brain and spermatozoa, is a special thing. The nexus between the works and the universe make these associations quite breathtaking.

Marcus

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Many thankx to Pamela Bain, Carolyn Lewens and Town Hall Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Conveying the wonder of science through art, Pamela Bain and Carolyn Lewens explore the universe with Swinburne University’s Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, resulting in an odyssey of aesthetic and sensory experiences.

DEEPER DARKER BRIGHTER is a creative response to an astrophysics program that is searching for the fastest explosions in the universe. The artists, present for real-time space observations, were stimulated by bombardments of astronomical imagery, data and technology that inspired these new bodies of work. The exhibition offers an immersive and stimulating space wherein fresh awareness of the cosmos and science is mediated via aesthetic and conceptual means.

 

Carolyn Lewens in front of her work 'In the Photic Zone' 2018

 

Carolyn Lewens in front of her work In the Photic Zone 2017 at the opening of the exhibition
Photo: ImagePlay

 

 

Pamela Bain in front of her work Electric Cosmic 2018 at the opening of the exhibition
Photo: ImagePlay

 

 

THG Artist Interview: Carolyn Lewens & Pamela Bain – DEEPER DARKER BRIGHTER, 12 May – 1 July 2018

 

Installation view of gallery one at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

Installation view of gallery one at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

Installation view of gallery one at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

 

Installation views of gallery one at the exhibition Deeper Darker Brighter at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne
Photos: Christian Capurro

 

 

Installation view of Pamela Bain’s work Candidate Light Collective 2018 (watercolour on cotton rag)
Photo: ImagePlay

 

Installation view of gallery two at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

Installation view of gallery two at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

Installation view of gallery two at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

 

Installation views of gallery two at the exhibition Deeper Darker Brighter at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne
Photos: Christian Capurro

 

 

Augmented visions: the art of the dynamic universe

Associate Professor Christopher Fluke

.
The consistency of the night sky was important for the development of astronomy: a science of observation, record-keeping and prediction. Across human lifetimes, the stars maintained their positions with respect to an imagined celestial sphere. The planets – literally wandering stars – moved with respect to the fixed stars in their own regular cycles.

Much rarer, and sometimes a cause for alarm, were the unexpected events – an eclipse of the Sun or the sudden appearance of a new star in the immutable heavens. On 4 July 1054, Chinese astronomers recorded a bright light appearing in the constellation Taurus. So luminous that it was visible in the daylight for 20 days, it faded from view over the next two years. The cause of this transient celestial event was the explosion of a star 6500 light years away: a supernova event in our own Galaxy. Today, astronomers search the sky for other exploding stars – but in galaxies far beyond our own. Sophisticated telescopes capture the brief yet spectacular death throes of some of the biggest stars, revealing valuable information about the origin and evolution of all stars. The spark of inspiration for artists Pamela Bain and Carolyn Lewens was the Deeper Wider Faster project: a systematic search for short-lived, transient explosions. Led by Swinburne University of Technology’s Associate Professor Jeff Cooke and PhD student Igor Andreoni, Deeper Wider Faster requires the coordination of multiple observatories distributed around the Earth, all watching the same regions of the sky, waiting to catch a cosmic cataclysm.

While signalling the death of a star, a supernova is also a source of new life. At the heart of the explosion, nuclear processes create gold, silver, and other elements. Billions of years ago, supernovae created the elemental mixture that would collapse and coalesce into our Solar System: the raw materials for life. As Carl Sagan noted “we are made of star-stuff”.

The mutual composition shared by humans and the Universe has influenced Pamela’s work for some time. Her paintings capture the essence of the explosion and the aftermath. The interplay between light and dark and the shadowy in between also reveals a human presence via daubs of colour, paint splatters and brushstrokes amalgamating the artist with the Universe. While technical processes are later integrated, evidence of an organic origin remain. The death event and the life giving properties shared between supernovae and our own physical outcome often reside in the subtext of Pam’s work, offering scope for the contemplation of ourselves as celestial entities.

Many of the great astronomers of the Renaissance were also great artists, perhaps none more so than Galileo Galilei. Although not the first to draw the Moon through a telescope, Galileo’s sketches of the craters and shadows of the Moon were an essential step in overturning the conception that the Moon was a perfect object. Through drawing and illustration, astronomers could share, discuss and debate what was seen via the augmentation of lenses and mirrors. As telescopes grew in size, the increased level of detail they revealed challenged the skills of many astronomers. The quality of the interpretation was only as good as the talents of the astronomer-artist. During the 19th century, a move from subjectivity to objectivity in astronomical imaging took place. While not without their own challenges, photographic plates could record features invisible to the human eye, and the era of the astronomer-artist came to an end. The longer the exposure, the DEEPER and DARKER elements of the Universe could be seen.

The cyanotype photography used by Carolyn was invented by astronomer Sir John Herschel in the early 1840s. While Herschel created the process to make blueprint copies of his notes, Carolyn’s camera-less photograms allow her to “investigate the metaphors of light and the mysteries of shadows.”

Physical engagement with processes of light and materiality is central to Carolyn’s work. The creations that emerge are a direct response to the presence or absence of light, generating a shadowy imprint of more complexity than we can perceive. Links to photosynthesis via the cyanotype process mean her work is more about life than death. There has always been a close connection between art and astronomy. Depictions of the night sky, accompanied by stories of the origin of the Universe, appear throughout human history. Complex motions of the celestial objects were often encoded in architecture. In Peru, the Thirteen Towers of Chankillo encode the Sun’s motion on the horizon throughout the year.

Modern astronomers build architectural marvels to capture faint electromagnetic signals from the sky. Large white domes huddle together on the tops of mountains far from the light pollution of cities, holding mirrors with diameters measured in metres. Elsewhere, an enormous parabolic dish sits incongruously in the Australian countryside, surrounded by sheep and the occasional poisonous snake.

The orchestration of observatories at the heart of Deeper Wider Faster is depicted in an animation in the Gallery, conceived by Pamela and Carolyn, and animated by James Josephides. Connections are made between geographical locations of observatories and their place in the electromagnetic spectrum. Radio waves, X-rays, infrared, ultraviolet and visible light are all the same phenomena. Yet each holds its own secret about the transient, dynamic Universe.

In a return to astronomy’s artistic roots, Pamela and Carolyn led weekly workshops with research staff and postgraduate students from Swinburne’s Centre for Astrophysics & Supercomputing. The opportunity to make model telescopes with Carolyn or learn to paint supernova with Pamela was taken up enthusiastically. Science and Art are both highly creative endeavours, that cannot succeed without research, experimentation, and an acceptance that some ideas will not work. The creative outputs of Swinburne’s astronomers are shown alongside the primary works of the exhibition.

Science and Art are both iterative experiences – it can be hard to say when either has come to an end. DEEPER DARKER BRIGHTER is an aesthetic and sensory response by Pamela Bain and Carolyn Lewens to Deeper Wider Faster. It implores us to reconsider the nature of the Universe, the light and the dark, and the augmented visions that astronomers use to capture the art of the dynamic Universe. This is the era of transient astronomy: the heavens are immutable no more.

.
Associate Professor Christopher Fluke
is a researcher with Swinburne’s Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, and Director of Swinburne’s Advanced Visualisation Laboratory.

 

Installation view of gallery three at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

Installation view of gallery three at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

Installation view of gallery three at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

Installation view of gallery three at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

Installation view of gallery three at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

Installation view of gallery three at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

Installation view of gallery three at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

Installation view of gallery three at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

 

Installation views of gallery three at the exhibition Deeper Darker Brighter at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne
Photos: Christian Capurro

 

Pamela Bain. 'Electric Cosmos' 2018

 

Pamela Bain
Electric Cosmos
2018
From the Death and Creation series
Painting remastered onto archival digital print on cotton rag
140 x 186 cm
© image courtesy of the artist

 

Pamela Bain. 'Explosion' 2018

 

Pamela Bain
Explosion
2018
From the Death and Creation series
Painting remastered onto archival digital print on cotton rag
© image courtesy of the artist

 

Pamela Bain. 'Nebula' 2018

 

Pamela Bain
Nebula
2018
From the Death and Creation series
Painting remastered onto archival digital print on cotton rag
© image courtesy of the artist

 

Pamela Bain. 'Through A Portal Lightly' 2018

 

Pamela Bain
Through A Portal Lightly
2018
From the Death and Creation series
Painting remastered onto archival digital print on cotton rag
© image courtesy of the artist

 

Opening of the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

 

At the opening of the exhibition Deeper Darker Brighter at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne
Photo: ImagePlay

 

Carolyn Lewens. 'Light Phenomenon 2' 2017

 

Carolyn Lewens
Light Phenomenon 2
2017
Dimensions variable
Unique state cyanotype photogram image digitally remastered print on cotton rag
© image courtesy of the artist

 

Carolyn Lewens. 'Fast Burst' 2017

 

Carolyn Lewens
Fast Burst
2017
Dimensions variable
Unique state cyanotype photogram image digitally remastered print on cotton rag
© image courtesy of the artist

 

Carolyn Lewens. 'Filamentous' 2017

 

Carolyn Lewens
Filamentous
2017
Dimensions variable
Unique state cyanotype photogram image digitally remastered print on cotton rag
© image courtesy of the artist

 

Carolyn Lewens. 'Naked Retina 8' 2017

 

Carolyn Lewens
Naked Retina 8
2017
Dimensions variable
Unique state cyanotype photogram image digitally remastered print on cotton rag
© image courtesy of the artist

 

Carolyn Lewens. 'Naked Retina 9' 2017

 

Carolyn Lewens
Naked Retina 9
2017
Dimensions variable
Unique state cyanotype photogram image digitally remastered print on cotton rag
© image courtesy of the artist

 

Carolyn Lewens. 'Spiralling orbits' 2017

 

Carolyn Lewens
Spiralling orbits
2017
Dimensions variable
Unique state cyanotype photogram image digitally remastered print on cotton rag
© image courtesy of the artist

 

Carolyn Lewens. 'Light Remnants' 2017

 

Carolyn Lewens
Light Remnants
2017
Dimensions variable
Unique state cyanotype photogram image digitally remastered print on cotton rag
© image courtesy of the artist

 

Carolyn Lewens. 'In the Photic Zone' 2013-2018

 

Carolyn Lewens
In the Photic Zone
2013-18
Dimensions variable
Unique state cyanotype photogram image digitally remastered print on cotton rag
© image courtesy of the artist

 

 

Town Hall Gallery
Hawthorn Arts Centre
360 Burwood Road,
Hawthorn VIC 3122
Phone: +61 3 9278 4770

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10am-5pm
Saturday and Sunday 11am-4pm
Closed on Mondays and public holidays

Town Hall Gallery website

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09
Mar
18

Review: ‘Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco’ at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 17th November 2017 – 12th March 2018

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'I’m going through changes' 2016

 

Del Kathryn Barton
I’m going through changes
2016
Synthetic polymer paint and fibre-tipped pen on canvas
200.0 x 180.0 cm
Collection of the artist
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

 

Hocus pocus, mumbo jumbo

Meaningless talk or activity / a form of words used by a person performing conjuring tricks.
Language or ritual causing or intended to cause confusion or bewilderment.

 

I have never been convinced by the work Del Kathryn Barton and this medium-sized exhibition at NGV Australia does absolutely nothing to change my mind.

Replete with the artist’s usual cacophony of tits, vulva and penises, the works mine various forms: sculpture, drawing, painting, film and collage; have multiple influences: Louise Bourgeois, Max Ernst, Barbara Kruger to name a few; and investigate numerous concepts such as the fluidity of gender, the link between human and animal forms, women’s genitalia and the blooming of flowers, the ornate decoration of species, “the strength of women, the visceral power of female sexuality and … Barton’s multiple interests in feminism, nature and the maternal figure.” Too much she cried!

Barton has a certain facility in the drawing of line, but this is too often overwhelmed by her inability to let negative space speak for itself. Every work is filled to the brim with vacuous detail, then overlaid with multicoloured polka dots in both collages and paintings (see the detail of her work in the face of cosmic odds, 2016 below), as though this device will tie all the works together. Her signature paintings of women have surface presence, are “just so meticulously attractive”, but absolutely lack what Barton is seeking – “so inexplicably intimate, so beyond, so seemingly effortless that there can be no defence. In these moments there is an opening-up within the body, the mind, within all the senses …” I felt nothing of that when looking at these works – no connection to an inner self or ‘the vast ocean of the collective-consciousness’.

Barton’s inability to engage the viewer in an intimate dialogue of body and mind can be seen in both text and graphic.

“today my body is feeling love
you fell into my flesh…… and we are fresh…… again
the unflesh are so clean somehow….. and their stirrings inform our smallness….. so that we are still small”

You fell into my flesh and we are fresh again. Please.

Then you look at the line work in volcanic woman (2016, below) as “these women erupt upward, as molten liquid bodies of agency. They display their genitals as though it is from their vaginas that the Earth’s energy spills forth,” and note the caricaturesque drawings lack any sense of intimacy or sensuality despite the subject matter. I think about Barton’s hero Louise Bourgeois and her work “10 AM IS WHEN YOU COME TO ME” (2006, below). Both works are displayed in a grid and produced in the same colour but the difference could not be more stark: Bourgeois’ use of negative space, the quiet sensitivity, eroticism and the superb intimacy of the work is the antithesis of Barton’s sexual megalomania. So often in art, less is more but Barton never seems to understand the adage.

To use Christopher Allen’s turn of phrase about the NGV Triennial, Barton’s works are “frenetically busy, but inherently insipid,” despite the overabundance / reliance on the display of sexual organs and excretions. While the artist desperately wants the viewer to be drawn into an intimate embrace with the supposed psychological and spiritual meanings of the work, the lack of emotional, sensual or erotic sensation negates any feeling towards it. Barton’s meaninglessness talk using confusing iconographies lays a surface trap for the viewer, taken in by decoration and sexual abundance. But if you look beyond the psychedelic aesthetic and decorative surfaces it’s just a conjuring trick, ritual representation as pseudo-spiritual experience.

Marcus

.
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 NGV presents a major solo exhibition of one of Australia’s most popular artists, Del Kathryn Barton. Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco reveals the artist’s imaginative and deeply sensuous world, where ornately decorated species – both human and animal – are rendered in seductive line and colour. Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco is a survey of new and recent work by the two times Archibald Portrait Prize winner that reveals the breadth of Barton’s practice. Featuring comprehensive displays of recent paintings and drawings for which she is arguably best known, the exhibition also includes collage, sculpture, textiles and film, all drawn together by the artist’s exuberant and psychedelic aesthetic.

 

 

“The creatures are so gorgeous. They’re just so meticulously attractive, I’m never repulsed. Without the darkness Barton seems to think is there, what is left? Passive psychedelia? I believe Barton feels intensely, but a second-hand trip, like a dream told to a friend, is never as emotional as the teller thinks it is.”

.
Victoria Perrin1

 

“I had a weak-at-the-knees, tingle-all-over moment when I saw Louise Bourgeois’ work for the first time about fifteen years ago in Los Angeles. Yes I am a CRAZY fan. And, yes, it’s true I lay under her big spider in Tokyo and cried…

These are the releases I hope for in our vast world of art. Encounters when the artwork is somehow so inexplicably intimate, so beyond, so seemingly effortless that there can be no defence. In these moments there is an opening-up within the body, the mind, within all the senses … an experience of recognition, relief and awe that informs one’s deeper creative makeup.”

.
Del Kathryn Barton

 

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018 featuring the inside another land series (2017, detail)
Photos: © Tom Ross

 

 

In this series of seventy-five montages that combine digital collage with hand painted details, Barton creates post-human visions in which women’s bodies are both human and plant. The Dadaists used collage to access the Freudian domain of the unconscious mind, and the great Dada artist Hannah Höch was a key proponent of photomontage in her exploration of the role of women in a changing world. Like the Surrealists, Barton uses collage as a method to critique the illusion of a defined and orderly world, in favour of absurdity. The visual delirium of these works induces a kind of hallucinatory experience in which new creatures seem possible.

It is widely understood that flowers symbolise female sexuality: their physical resemblance to women’s genitalia is coupled with an associative significance in their blooming, which invokes the creation of new life in birth. The history of floral representation strongly binds femininity and flowers, from the Greek nymph Chloris and her Roman counterpart Flora, who oversaw spring and flowers, to Sigmund Freud who was very clear on the matter: ‘Blossoms and flowers represent the female genitals, or more particularly, virginity. Do not forget that the blossoms are really the genitals of the plants’. (Wall text)

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'inside another land' 2017 (detail)

Del Kathryn Barton. 'inside another land' 2017 (detail)

Del Kathryn Barton. 'inside another land' 2017 (detail)

Del Kathryn Barton. 'inside another land' 2017 (detail)

Del Kathryn Barton. 'inside another land' 2017 (detail)

Del Kathryn Barton. 'inside another land' 2017 (detail)

 

Del Kathryn Barton
inside another land (details)
2017
Collection of the artist
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'you’re not a bit ashamed' 2017

 

Del Kathryn Barton
you’re not a bit ashamed
2017
Synthetic polymer paint and ink on paper
152.0 x 194.0 cm (image and sheet)
Collection of the artist
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'to speak of anger, I will take care' 2017

 

Del Kathryn Barton
to speak of anger, I will take care
2017
Synthetic polymer paint and ink on paper
152.0 x 194.0 cm (image and sheet)
Collection of the artist
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018 featuring the work briefly turned into dreams (2016)
Photos: © Tom Ross

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'briefly turned into dreams' 2016 (detail)

 

Del Kathryn Barton
briefly turned into dreams (detail)
2016
Collection of the artist
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Del Kathryn Barton
come home to me
2014-2017
Gouache and ink on hot pressed paper
Collection of the artist. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery and A3

 

 

The flexibility of language is revealed in come home to me. Barton loves language but at the same time questions its ability to communicate. The floating words are a strategy for awakening us to the various, infinite and slippery meaning of words. Like poetry, Barton’s fiercely non-didactic texts are open to diverse understandings. There is no wrong or right interpretation of these texts. Without dictating the associations these words create in each of our minds, Barton evokes sensual delights and pleasures of the flesh. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018 featuring a detail from the work come home to me (2014-2017)
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and National Gallery of Victoria

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'mud monster' 2014 (detail)

Del Kathryn Barton. 'mud monster' 2014 (detail)

 

Del Kathryn Barton
mud monster (details)
2014
Collection of the artist
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018 featuring the I am flesh again series (2008)
Photos: © Tom Ross

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018 featuring a detail from the I am flesh again series (2008)
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and National Gallery of Victoria

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'I am flesh again' 2008 (detail)

 

Del Kathryn Barton
I am flesh again (detail)
2008
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018 featuring the photogravure work the stars eat your body (2009) and the bronze up in this (2012) top; and the bronze i can grow you more, drunk on its own nectar (2017) bottom

 

 

Two-time Archibald prize-winner Del Kathryn Barton is being celebrated in the largest ever exhibition of her work to date at NGV Australia. Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco features 150 new and recent works by Barton, including her famed kaleidoscopic portraits, a never-before-seen large-scale sculpture in homage to her mother and Barton’s short film RED, starring Australian actress and Academy Award-winner Cate Blanchett.

‘With a practice spanning art, fashion and film, Barton’s psychedelic images reveal her personal responses to the human experience. She is one of Australia’s most popular artists, renowned for her highly intricate and distinctive hybrid forms, that break down boundaries between humans and nature’, said Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV.

This show is deeply personal for Barton with the debut of her new sculpture, at the foot of your love, which has been created in response to her mother’s terminal illness. Completed in 2017 and comprised of printed silk and Huon pine, the sculpture is reflective of Barton’s reoccurring themes of motherhood and nature. Featuring a wooden conch shell and an enormous silk ‘handkerchief’, the work is symbolic of Barton’s grief for her own mother.

Comprised of five panels and over 10 metres in length, sing blood-wings sing is Barton’s newest and largest painting to date. The painting features a female-focused reimagining of the 1963 Peter, Paul and Mary coming-of-age song, Puff the Magic Dragon. Barton often listens to the folk tune whilst working in her studio as a symbolic reminder to maintain her childlike curiosity through her artistic practice. Barton’s interpretation of the song and its meaning is depicted by four breasted, rainbow coloured dragons. In her signature style, she blurs human, mythological and animal representations in art, encouraging her audience to see how imagination and desire can test traditional forms.

The exhibition also features Barton’s acclaimed film RED, where Cate Blanchett plays a mother re-enacting the redback spider’s deadly mating ritual, alongside actor Alex Russell, Sydney Dance Company’s Charmene Yap and Barton’s own daughter Arella. In RED Barton conveys the strength of women, the visceral power of female sexuality and encapsulates Barton’s multiple interests in feminism, nature and the maternal figure.

Born in Sydney in 1972, Barton graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales, Sydney, in 1993. She won her first Archibald prize in 2008 for her self-portrait with her two children and then again in 2013 for her portrait of Australian actor Hugo Weaving.

Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco is one of five solo exhibitions by leading Australian artists for NGV Australia’s 2017-18 summer program. The exhibition is on display at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne from 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018.

Press release from the NGV

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

sing blood-wings sing (2017)

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018.
Photos: © Tom Ross

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'the highway is a disco' 2015

 

Del Kathryn Barton
the highway is a disco
2015
Synthetic polymer paint and fibre-tipped pen on canvas
Private collection, Austria
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'I want to love you' 2016

 

Del Kathryn Barton
I want to love you
2016
Collection of the artist
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018 featuring the work at the foot of your love (2017)
Photos: © Tom Ross

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018 featuring the work at the foot of your love (2017)
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

at the foot of your love  (2017) was made by Barton as she prepared for her mother’s death. The fabric represents a handkerchief for the tears of all children who mourn their mother’s departure. The wooden conch shell is envisaged by the artist as a boat on which to sail into the darkness of eternity and ‘the vast ocean of the collective-consciousness’. It celebrates home and place, since the Huon Pine tree, from which the work is made, is a precious and endangered timber of Australia, subject to decay. (Wall text)

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'of pink planets' 2014

 

Del Kathryn Barton
of pink planets
2014
Collection of Boris Tosic, Sydney
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

 

In this work a creature with the head of a wallaby and the tail of a snake looks as though it might suckle from one of the woman’s five breasts. The breast is a dual organ, both of pleasure and sustenance, and multiple breasts suggest abundant life energy. Symbolically, the multi-breasted woman recalls the mythological icon Artemis of Ephesus, goddess of the wilderness, the hunt, wild animals and fertility. In some interpretations of the iconography, the nodes on Artemis’s chest are said to be the testes of bulls sacrificed to her. This fluidity of gender, human and animal forms is a strong current in Barton’s art. (Wall text)

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'openly song' 2014

 

Del Kathryn Barton
openly song
2014
Private collection, Melbourne
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'or fall again' 2014

 

Del Kathryn Barton
or fall again
2014
Collection of Leonard Warson, Melbourne
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

 

The tangled and lush floral decoration of Barton’s paintings recreates the millefleur (1000 flowers) technique of late Middle Ages to early Renaissance tapestries, distinguished by a lack of uniform pattern. The medieval period is sometimes perceived as a time of pagan superstition when the mysteries of nature and humanity were still full of wonder and darkness, and the unknown and unexplained were revered. Barton’s works evoke this period and direct viewers to a mysteriously interconnected world where spirit, psyche, natural cycles and the body are interconnected in intimate, unknowable relationships. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018 featuring a detail from the work or fall again (2014)
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018 featuring a detail from the work in the face of cosmic odds (2016)
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and National Gallery of Victoria

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'See ya mumma' 2016

 

Del Kathryn Barton
See ya mumma
2016
Synthetic polymer paint and fibre-tipped pen on canvas
140.0 x 160.0 cm
Collection of Brooke Horne, Sydney
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'is the energy' 2014

 

Del Kathryn Barton
is the energy
2014
Private collection, Melbourne
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'girl as sorcerery figure' 2005

 

Del Kathryn Barton
girl as sorcerery figure
2005
Collection of Jane Badler, Melbourne
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Del Kathryn Barton
girl #8 (installation view)
2004
Fibre-tipped pen, gouache, watercolour and synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Art Gallery of New South Wales
© Del Kathryn Barton
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and National Gallery of Victoria

 

Louise Bourgeois. '10 AM IS WHEN YOU COME TO ME' 2006  Louise Bourgeois. '10 AM IS WHEN YOU COME TO ME' 2006 Louise Bourgeois. '10 AM IS WHEN YOU COME TO ME' 2006

 

Louise Bourgeois
“10 AM IS WHEN YOU COME TO ME” (details)
2006
Etching, ink, watercolour, pencil and gouache on paper

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018 featuring the volcanic women series 2016-
Photo: © Tom Ross

 

 

‘I, too, overflow; my desires have invented new desires, my body knows unheard-of songs. Time and again I, too, have felt so full of luminous torrents that I could burst.’

HÉLÈNE CIXOUS, THE LAUGH OF THE MEDUSA (1975)

 

In this new series of works, entitled volcanic women, Barton coaxes and melts women into and out of the Earth’s larval core. Bodies flow from the ground, emerging as hot red lines of ink. These women erupt upward, as molten liquid bodies of agency. They display their genitals as though it is from their vaginas that the Earth’s energy spills forth. Barton here celebrates the abundance and generative necessity of women’s desire and sexual vigour. The suppression of women’s sexuality by a culture of fear is melted away in these volcanic works. (Wall text)

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'volcanic woman' 2016

 

Del Kathryn Barton
volcanic woman
2016
From the volcanic women series 2016-
Collection of the artist
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018 featuring a detail from the volcanic woman series (2016)
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

 

“The film is split into sections titled MOTHER, FATHER, LIFE, DEATH and DAUGHTER. When it comes time for the father to feature, he is accompanied by a shot of a car revving. When the spider arrives (in a wonderful dance performed by Charmene Yap), she moves in an incredibly enthralling manner, but she’s writhing on a muscle car. The performance of gender isn’t twisted, it moves straight past the iconic and into the parodic. But it’s not supposed to be a parody of the deadly spider that eats its mate, it’s dead serious. Barton has no intimation of the taboo and genuinely titillating danger that Bourgeois could reproduce in spades. Then it hits me, everything in Barton’s world is conventionally beautiful, yet we’re supposed to find it shocking. I don’t see women reflected in her vision of “hyper-women”, I see great beauties, I see movie stars and high-fashion models.”

Victoria Perrin1

 

Del Kathryn Barton. Still from 'RED' 2016

Del Kathryn Barton. Still from 'RED' 2016

Del Kathryn Barton. Still from 'RED' 2016

Del Kathryn Barton. Still from 'RED' 2016

 

Del Kathryn Barton
Stills from RED
2016
Collection of the artist
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

 

‘Mother of otherness Eat me’

SYLVIA PLATH, POEMS FOR A BIRTHDAY (1960)

 

Sylvia Plath’s words open Barton’s first short film, RED. The human maternal figure at the heart of this work (played by Cate Blanchett) is interchangeable with a red-back spider. Alongside Blanchett, Barton’s daughter, Arella Plater, and actor Alex Russell portray the nuclear family, and Sydney Dance Company’s Charmene Yap is the arching, writhing spider. The film explores women’s desire and maternal experience. In the realm of recent art history, the mother-spider recalls American sculptor Louise Bourgeois’s massive, looming arachnids. Bourgeois is one of Barton’s greatest influences and represented spiders in a renowned series begun in 1994 and continued until the end of her life in 2010. Like Plath and Bourgeois before her, in this work Barton has rendered the overwhelming complexities and contradictions of motherhood. (Wall text)

 

 

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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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:
.

“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

.
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.

.
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