A National Gallery of Victoria Touring Exhibition
24 April – 9 August 2009
Open daily 10am–5pm and until 9pm every Thursday
The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Galleries 17 – 20, Level 3
Admission fees apply
2 October 2009 – 26 January 2010
Art Gallery of South Australia
In 1965 John Brack said, ‘For me I think that there must always be some sort of comment, but it must never be the sort of comment that could be put into words.’ His was an art of ideas that aimed to speak directly to the viewer. It was grounded in the everyday but communicated through a distinctive and highly personal language incorporating complex visual analogy, irony, humour, a sophisticated use of metaphor, and always underpinned by a deep knowledge of the history of art.
More than any other artist of his generation, John Brack was a painter of modern Australian life. Unlike his contemporaries, Brack painted neither myth nor history and when he focused on the landscape, it was the sprawl of suburbia that caught his attention rather than the ubiquitous Australian bush. Describing one of his core motivations, Brack said:
What I paint most is what interests me most, that is, people; the Human Condition, in particular the effect on appearance of environment and behaviour … A large part of the motive … is the desire to understand, and if possible, to illuminate …
This interest in the human condition is self-evident in Brack’s art of the 1950s and 60s which depicts the people and places that surrounded him; images of his wife and children, art-world friends, people, alone and in crowds, observed in the suburbs and the city, at work and at play. In the mid-1970s a shift occurred in Brack’s art and apart from portraits and paintings of the nude, literal representations of the human figure disappeared, being replaced by assorted everyday implements including cutlery, pens and pencils arranged with playing cards and postcards. From the study of individuals and their behaviour at the local level, which had characterised Brack’s work of the 1950s and 60s, the later paintings described the complexities of human nature and relationships and their role in the universal and seemingly inescapable experiences of political struggle, religious difference and war. These paintings are powerful moral tales in pictorial form. As Sasha Grishin has written, while in the course of his career Brack ‘moved from the specific and the particular … to the general and universal view … the central concern with people and the tragedy of their existence remains unchanged.’
The first John Brack retrospective to be held in more than twenty years, this exhibition will survey the artist’s complete oeuvre, incorporating paintings and works on paper from all of his major series and including pictures such as The bar 1954 and Collins St., 5 p.m. 1955, now regarded as some of the most iconic images of 20th century Australian art.
Indemnification for this exhibition is provided by the Victorian Government