Art of Australia

Art of Australia

The Art of Australia refers to both Australian Aboriginal art and Post Colonial art. Australia has produced notable artists from both Western traditions and Indigenous Australian traditions. The importance and sacredness of the land is a uniting theme for both histories of Australian Art.

Early Colonial Art

The first descriptions of Australia by European artists were mainly "natural-history art", depicting the distinctive flora and fauna for scientific purposes. Sydney Parkinson, the Botanical illustrator on James Cook's 1770 voyage that first charted the eastern coastline of Australia, made a large number of such drawings under the direction of naturalist Joseph Banks. Many of these drawings were met with scepticism when taken back to Europe, for example claims that the platypus was a hoax. Despite Banks' suggestions, no professional natural-history artist sailed on the First Fleet in 1788, so until the turn of the century all drawings made in the colony were by soldiers, including British naval officers George Raper and John Hunter, and convict artists, including Thomas Watling. However, many of these drawings are by unknown artists. Most are in the style of naval draughtsmanship. Most of these drawings were of Natural history topics, specifically birds, and a few depict the infant colony itself.

Several professional natural-history illustrators accompanied expeditions in the early 19th century, including Ferdinand Bauer (who travelled with Matthew Flinders), and Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, who travelled with a French expedition led by Nicolas Baudin. The first resident professional artist was John Lewin, who arrived in 1800 and published two volumes of natural-history art.

Early 19th century

As well as natural history, there were some ethnographic portraiture of Aboriginals, particularly in the 1830s. Artists included Augustus Earle in New South Wales and in Tasmania.

Art in Australia from 1788 onward is often narrated as the gradual shift from a European sense of light to an Australian one. The lighting in Australia is notably different to that of Europe, and early attempts at landscapes attempted to reflect this.
Conrad Martens worked from 1835 to 1878 as a professional artist, painting many landscapes. He was commercially successful. His work, though, is regarded as softening the landscape to fit European sensibilities. Another significant landscape artist of this era was John Glover.

A few attempts at art exhibitions were made in the 1840s, which attracted a number of artists but were unfortunately commercial failures. By the 1850s however, regular exhibitions became popular, with a huge variety of art types represented. The first such was in 1854 in Melbourne. An art museum, which eventually became the National Gallery of Victoria, was founded in 1861, and began to collect Australian works as well as gathering a collection of European masters. Some of the artists of note included Eugene von Guerard, William Strutt, and Louis Buvelot.

Heidelberg School

The beginnings of Australian art are often popularly associated with the Heidelberg School in the 1880s. The Heidelberg school focused on achieving a truer account of Australian lighting conditions than had been achieved before. Some see strong connections between the art of the school and the wider Impressionist movement, while others point to earlier traditions of plain air painting elsewhere in Europe. Sayers states that "there remains something excitingly original and indisputably important in the art of the 1880s and 1890s", and that by this time "something which could be described as an Australian tradition began to be recognized".

Some of the key figures in the School were Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Frederick McCubbin, and Charles Conder. Their most recognised work involves scenes of pastoral and wild Australia, featuring the vibrant, even harsh colours of Australian summers. The name itself comes from a camp Roberts and Streeton set up at a property near Heidelberg, at the time on the rural outskirts of Melbourne. Some of their paintings received international recognition, and many remain embedded in Australia's popular consciousness both inside and outside the art world.

Twentieth century

Leading up to World War I, the decorative arts, including miniature, watercolour painting, and functional objects such as vases, became more prominent in the Australian arts scene. Norman Lindsay's works caused considerable scandal around the turn of the century. One famous drawing, "Politice verso", caused his first scandal, as it depicted a "writhing bacchanal of nude Romans" giving the thumbs-down to "a scrawny figure hung on a cross". By this time, women's artworks started to attract wider attention, such as the pastels of Florence Rodway, or the paintings of Grace Cossington Smith, who painted the Sydney Harbour Bridge as it was being constructed.

After World War I, modernist art began to make its presence felt in the Australian art community, causing considerable controversy between its practitioners and detractors (though this is probably an oversimplification). 1921 saw the founding of the Archibald Prize, Australia's most famous art prize, for portraiture, though defining portraiture has always caused controversy - most notably in 1943 when William Dobell's highly figurative portrait of an artist friend won the prize and was challenged in court on the basis that it was a caricature, not a portrait. Also notable in the 1930s period was the photography of Max Dupain, whose images of bronzed (often nude) Australians on dazzlingly-lit beaches added to the mythological connection of white Australia to its coastline.

In the 1930s and 1940s the opening up of Australia's interior saw an increasing cross-pollination between Western and Aboriginal art, with European artists imitating Aboriginal styles and some Aboriginal artists adopting Western techniques. The most famous of these is undoubtedly Albert Namatjira.

In the 1940s a new generation of artists began experimenting with styles such as surrealism and other techniques. Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker were prominent, and a number of artists spent time at Heide, a house in Heidelberg - the site of the Heidelberg school several decades before. Amongst the artists that spent time there are Joy Hester and, most prominently Sidney Nolan, the best known artist of the immediate postwar period, whose iconic Ned Kelly images are probably better known than the artist himself. The effect of the Ern Malley poetry case, its cover illustrated by Nolan, also reflected around the art world.

The aspects of Australia's landscape depicted by artists continued to widen, with the suburban landscape brought to attention by such artists as John Brack. One of the best known painters is the Sydney artist Brett Whiteley who died in 1992. Twice winner of the Archibald Prize, he returned to Australia in the 1970s after spending time in London, Italy and New York and, amongst many other subjects, pushed the horizon to the top of the canvas and produced an array of landscapes of Sydney and particularly its inspirational harbourside.

In 1971-2 art teacher Geoffrey Bardon encouraged the Aboriginal people of Papunya to paint their Dreamtime stories on canvas, leading to the development of the Papunya Tula school, or 'dot art' which has become possibly Australia's most recognisable style of art worldwide. Clifford Possum was one of the best-known of these artists that came from Papunya.

The 1970s saw the widespread introduction of the government funding of Australian arts, and thousands of artists continue to produce a huge variety of works in media from oils to digital projection. The National Gallery of Australia was opened in 1982, and the state galleries have continued to expand.

The 1980s saw some artists flourish without the need the for government funding. Pro Hart established a gallery in Broken Hill and sold works to HRH Prince Phillip and to the White house in the United States. In 1976 he was awarded the Order of the British Empire and was the Australian Citizen of the year in 1983.

Ken Done also sold works internationally and in 1992 received the Order of Australia. An original Ken Done work has featured on the cover of the weekly Japanese magazine Hanako for over ten years, and in recent times Ken has also become involved in the movement toward a new Australian flag. In 1999, Done was asked to create a series of works for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies programs of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. He was Australian Father of the year in 1989.

Contemporary Australian artists such as Patricia Piccinini, Tracey Moffat and Bill Henson have increasingly used photography and video in their works. Aboriginal artists using western medium such as Emily Kngwarreye Rover Thomas and Freddy Timms have become known internationally and are regarded as some of the greatest painters of recent times.

A number of Australian artists have recently been official war artists for the Australian War Memorial such as Wendy Sharpe and Rick Amor for the East Timor peacekeeping mission; George Gittoes in Somalia; Peter Churcher (son of NGA director Betty Churcher)in the War on Terrorism, and Lewis Miller in the 2003 Iraq War.

Classical realism persists as the mainstream of Australian commercial painting, with artists such as portrait artist Paul Newton and landscape painter Jason Benjamin. Then there is the photorealist style of 3-times Archibald finalist, Michael Zavros, Tim Storrier or Jeffrey Smart. The Archibald prize is an important society event which continues to lead artists into objective portraiture as a means to secure financial security and popular support.

Some artists have been involved in controversies such as William Dobell, Adam Cullen, Craig Ruddy and Richard Bell. Much of this controversy surrounds the Archibald and the ever present questions surrounding what actually constitutes 'art'. Some, like Ron Radford, Director of the National Gallery of Australia, have expressed the opinion that although "you'd never change it, let's not kid ourselves the Archibald is about art". Still many contemporary artists continue to be involved with the Archibald Prize, such as Archibald bridesmaids, Bill Leak and Nicholas Harding, who have both been finalists in the prize eleven times , and Euan MacLeod, who has been a finalist in the Sulman Prize four times, and the Wynne Prize three times.

List of Australian artists


* cite book
last = Smith
first = Bernard
coauthors = with Terry Smith & Christopher Heathcote
title = Australian Painting 1788-2000
publisher = Oxford University Press
date = 2001
location = Melbourne, Vic
pages = 630p
id = ISBN 1-875847-10-3

* cite book
last = Heathcote
first = Christopher
title = A Quiet Revolution: The Rise of Australian Art, 1946-1968
publisher = Text Publishing
date = 1995
location = Melbourne, Vic
pages = 267p
id = ISBN 1875847324

Meacham Steve: Art Prize just a lot of old Archibalds, Arts Review, Sydney Morning Herald, 8/9/06 [ read in full] [ More Archibald]

ee also

*Arts in Australia
*Culture of Australia
*Indigenous Australian art
*Australian artist-run initiatives
*Photography in Australia

Art galleries

*National Gallery of Victoria
*Art Gallery of New South Wales
*National Gallery of Australia
*Queensland Art Gallery
*Gold Coast City Art Gallery
* [ Norman Lindsay Gallery and Museum]
*Geelong Art Gallery

Representative Organisations

*the National Association for the Visual Arts(NAVA)

External links

* [ Australian Visual Art Prizes]
* [ Australian Art]
* [ Artabase]

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