I’m in Australia for a few weeks to see family and friends and it got me inspired to present another post on Australian painters. There’s so many great contemporary artists to write about but for this post I’ve just focused on those that have passed on to the great studio in the sky.
Grace Cossington-Smith (1892-1984)
I first became more familiar with Grace Cossington Smith’s works when I was given Janine Burke’s landmark book of Australian Women Painters (1840-1940) in 1980 as a gift by my mother. I loved Grace’s invigorating Post-Impressionism. So fresh and positive. She stood out and wasn’t afraid to and I liked her for that. Her painting ‘The Sock Knitter’ 1915 is generally regarded to be Australia’s first Post-Impressionist painting. It was important to me at that time to know about women painters, their history and work as it gave me a sense of history even if only imaginary. I knew no other artists and certainly no female ones. It made you feel less of an odd bod knowing about them. At the time virtually no artbooks had women artists in them and if it wasn’t for people like Janine Burke and Germaine Greer and a few others who bothered to do the research on them nobody but the occasional viewer who stumbled upon their work in a gallery would know about them at all.
Have a listen to this audio on a Grace Cossington Smith painting.
Frederick McCubbin (1855-1917)
Beautiful paintings in a proto impressionist style. Idyllic country scenes. Thick paint but not that thick. Nude boys bathing in Spring. Children lost in the bush. A touch of melancholy. Soft light. That is what I remember of McCubbin. The Australian bush is extremely hard to paint as it’s so unstructured compared to the European landscape or any other landscape. It’s wild and the colour of the trees is mostly very neutral. Too neutral half the time for any pictorial drama. Some say dull but in the mornings and evenings you get the pinks and purples amongst them which creates a very unique and beautiful colour field. Of course you can always create drama through contrast with the overwhelming blue of the Australian sky and then those neutrals come alive.
Russell Drysdale (1912-1981)
Russell Drysdale is a painter who was literally like wallpaper in my imagination. My parents had his painting ‘The Cricketer’ displayed on the wall (with some garish 70’s wallpaper) above the television during my teenage years and when I wasn’t watching tv I was lost in that painting. The colours and style tell a story of isolation and barrenness but with a kind of sparky energy that finds an outlet in playing games. Nothing wrong with that. But is that all there is?
More about The Cricketers 1948
Fred Williams (1927-1982)
I first noticed Fred Williams paintings on the dining room walls of my friend Cath’s house when I was a teenager. (Your teenage years are some of the best years for finding out stuff in all their poetic glory I reckon) While we were eating from our fondue thinking we were the height of sophistication I was pondering Fred Williams barren splodgy, spotty unstructured landscape print on the wall. What did it mean I wondered? Pure abstraction or not? It looked like it but being a suburban girl it wasn’t until I’d experienced the Australian landscape properly that I understood what he was getting at. He was painting just what he saw. Yes in a simplified manner but which captures the essence and nature of the landscape. When you do tune into that essence the difference between black and white Australians shrinks.
Everytime I paint a portrait I lose a friend.
John Singer Sargent
Check out this portrait of the Queen of England.