Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Australian Galleries 1

"Painting is an argument between what it looks like and what it means" - Brett Whiteley
Having been confounded by contemporary art in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, I reassured myself with work that I actually like. Each time I come to Australian art galleries I familiarise myself more with local artists, themes and styles. I have just included in this post some of my favourites.

Whiteley's return to Australia in 1969 heralded a new preoccupation with colour and beauty. Inspired principally by Matisse, but also by his house at Lavender Bay on Sydney Harbour's north shore, he created a series of large scale paintings of expansive interiors and views evoking the marine beauty of the harbour. I like this expansive blue canvas dotted with boats and the faint white line-drawing of the bridge.

The Balcony 2 (1975) by Brett Whiteley
John Olsen is possibly best known for creating the mural, Salute to Five Bells, in the Sydney Opera House, inspired by Kenneth Slessor's poem. He wrote of this painting:
"Five bells was my first commission to paint in situ to cover a wall … I didn’t hesitate. I brushed a line around the core theme, the seed-burst, the life-burst, the sea-harbour, the source of life. Inside and around this core, I painted images drawn from metaphors and similes in [Kenneth] Slessor’s poem of our harbour city, and from my own emotional and physical involvement with the harbour, and with my young family in Watsons Bay …I wanted to show the Harbour as a movement, a sea suck, and the sound of the water as though I am part of the sea ... The painting says directly what I wanted to say: ‘I am in the sea-harbour, and the sea-harbour is in me’." - John Olsen
Five bells (1963) - John Olsen

John Brack uses repeated angular forms for his painting of a woman mid-conversation. Communication is usually a positive thing but in this sepia tinted rendition it is strained and isolating. The viewer, positioned as a direct and close observer, is drawn into the stark geometry of the composition.

The Telephone Box (1954) by John Brack
Arthur Boyd's Nebuchadnezzar on fire falling over a waterfall features a bright meteor plunging toward a waterfall in the Austalian bush, with its distintive greens, olives, blues and yellows. The figure's splayed fingers recalls the Old Testament punishment of Nebuchadnezzar who was punsihed by God by being driven insane, ‘his nails like birds’ claws’ (Book of Daniel). There are further similarities with both the legend of Icarus and the self-immolation of Vietnam War protestors.

Nebuchadnezzar on fire falling over a waterfall (1966-68) by Arthur Boyd
"With its startling blue eye conveying fear, pain and a desperate struggle for freedom, Hare in Trap is powerfully autobiographical. Nolan himself suggested that the hare’s eyes relate to an incident during a car trip to northern Victoria, when the painter and his father came across a hare caught in a trap – the resultant look in his father’s blue eyes struck Nolan vividly. This beautiful, enigmatic painting, which can be read as a self-portrait, is revered universally by scholars and Nolan’s admirers as one of his finest masterpieces."

Hare in Trap (1946) - Sidney Nolan
First-class marskman shows the isolated figure of Ned Kelly in the solid black armour that is Nolan’s most inventive pictorial device, its flat abstracted shape incongruously placed against a landscape of lyrical delicacy. The title refers to an incident which took place in Victoria’s Wombat Ranges, when Kelly and his gang were practising their marksmanship, firing hundreds of rounds at surrounding trees from a bullet-proof hide-out.

First-class marksman (1946) - Sidney Nolan
Albert Tucker, friends with Sidney Nolan, was impressed with the photographs the latter brought back from the 1952 Queensland drought. Many of them show the harsh effects of the climactic conditions in dessicated carcasses.
Apocalyptic horse (1956) - Albert Tucker
Faun attacked by parrot 3 is a direct reference to Nolan's style, with the exposed ribs and square head against the bleak landscape of burnt tree trunks echoing the paintings of the Ned Kelly series. The bright-feathered parrot, however, with the 3D beak and quirky face is typical of Tucker.

Faun attacked by parrot 3 (1968) - Albert Tucker

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