Collins St, 5p.m. 1955
oil on canvas
114.8 x 162.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1956
© National Gallery of Victoria

John Brack

Collins Street 5p.m.

Australian artist John Brack was a keen observer of human behaviour. In his painting Collins Street 5p.m., he depicts city workers on their way home, caught in the ritualistic routine of nine-to-five office work.

‘I’d sketch the crowd walking towards Spencer Street Station, as I waited for a friend in a doorway near the corner of Elizabeth Street. I was thinking...I used to be a clerk in an insurance company 200 metres up this street, and it was a deadly, cowardly, too-secure life. Now I’m an artist, with the courage to take risks, and superior to these feeble people who cannot control their own boring lives. A few years later, I felt pretty ashamed of that painting. It was too one dimensional. I realised those people were as worthy as me, and their lives as complex as mine. Unless my work contained humility, it would fail. I could use irony but not superiority. I began to put many levels of meaning into each painting.’
John Brack, The Age, 24 August 1991

Classroom discussion:

  • How does Brack capture the ritualistic grind and routine of nine-to-five office work in Collins Street, 5p.m.? In your answer consider the role of art elements and design principles such as colour, shape, line, rhythm, space and variety.
  • Brack made many drawings of workers going home before he made this painting. Is this significant? Explain.
  • Is it significant that Brack worked as a clerk before becoming an artist? Explain.
  • What do the artist’s comments add to your understanding of the painting?

K. Grant, H. Brack, S. Grishin, R. Lindsay & C. McAuliffe, John Brack (exh. cat.). National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2009.