I took Australian Literature students to the Art Gallery of NSW today to introduce them to the range of Australian art that is relevant to literary themes. We started with Lin Onus’ amazing “Hills Hoist” with its fruit bats and blossom/droppings on the ground. One student (Adam) perceptively noted the sinister mood of the bats whose eyes seemed to glare out at the viewer. We then viewed another mighty political work by a young Aboriginal which expressed his sense of the historical turning points in Aboriginal/white relations. The painting was called “White Man’s Burden” and had an Aboriginal figure in the centre reclaiming land after MABO. Later groups noticed how the centre of this painting was turning black… the myriad white spots were retreating from the force of this central figure. We then looked at Australian painting in reverse chronology, begining with recent art and then stepping back through the decades to the early nineteenth century. The high point of the afternoon was the lecture on and viewing of Margaret Preston’s work. She is an amazing artist who developed in so many ways during her life-time. Her special contribution is her appreciation and appropriation of Aboriginal art. The lecture made a very interesting comment to the effect that she was still very colonialist in her attitudes towards the Aboriginals, but she was also very appreciative of the quality of their work. Her paintings truly are a celebration of the distinctive character of the flora of Australia and also a unique quest for a genuine Australian aesthetic.
I also discovered a fascinating resource provided by the Art Gallery of NSW which allows you to search their gallery on-line and create your own annotated gallery of favourite paintings. If you want to try this go to http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/mvg
Over and out!
PS: for Twentieth Century Students it is worth noting that the Australian section in the NSW Gallery has also set up a special exhibtion of Australian paintings and sculptures that have been directly inspired by the work of T.S. Eliot, especially his “The Waste Land” and “Four Quartets”.