Modernism and Postmodernism in Australian Art:
When westerners first came to Australia in the late 1700’s, we found ourselves extremely disorientated in this mysterious world, causing confusion within ourselves and loss of identity in place. But now as we are evolving, we begin to heal ourselves through learning to live in a more empathetic relationship with the land, being influenced and influencing the ancient soils we stand upon.
As we began to acknowledge that nature can provide, resurrect and fortify the stultified soulful, creative, imaginative aspect of ourselves overtime we established a clearer understanding of who we are as Australians, shown through art. Australian artist, Ainslie Roberts creates works filled with imagination and feeling which seem to have a seamless relationship with nature and humankind, combined with a Western style influence to show what it means to be a white Australian. Clearer still in the works of Lin Onus who tackles a similar topic but with a more political approach towards cross cultured issues of indigenous and white Australians.
We can trace back through the evolution of who we were in relationship with the land through the development of painting, beginning from the point when this land was first discovered by white people. Early colonial painters interoperated the essence of the Australian terrain with foreign perspectives by creating landscapes which looked just like their home land. Shown in Thomas Watling’s paintings is his attempt to portray the Australian terrain, but his foreign eyes interoperated the landscape much like England. We tried to make it ours to conquer it instead of living with it which lead us to an extreme loss of who we were. Looking at these early works it appears we did not capture the true essence of this land as we were disorientated with where we were and as a result with who we were. Families had no real sense of home and children were getting lost in the huge and mysterious bush. Frederick McCubbin portrays this loss of identity in place through his artworks, particularly in ‘Lost’ where a young girl is literally lost in a landscape of the huge empowering Australian bush.
As the 1900s rolled in so too did the era of modernism, becoming the perfect vehicle for Australian artists to use in the pursuit of identity. Russell Drysdale depicted in his surreal and expressionistic paintings his empathy towards the people living in the harsh Australian
outback. In his 1947 work ‘The Rabbiters' there is an over dramatised element of distortion which moves the painting. The landscape serves to intensify its ultimate sense of reality and the two men seem to be over empowered by the land. Then Sidney Nolan who's paintings, also from the late 1940s, were of Kelly who was used as a great tool to portray the western myth of the hero showing a triumphant character conquering the land through art. Recognising that both Nolan and Drysdale portray history of the past in portraying the harshness of Australian life, they seem to show more negative aspects of what it was like to live in this rough country.
=Ainslie Roberts on the other hand created a more positive and inspiring outlook towards the future. His artworks bring to mind how we can begin to heal and be healed once we start harmonising with the flow of Mother Earth. With imagination he dreams into other worlds creating a bridge- through art -between worlds. Showing through his creations the world of dreams, the subconscious, imagination, feeling, the great divine and Dreamtime myths which have been clouded and turned invisible to mans modern experience perspective eyes. As he states, “The paintings always come first, and the big job is to get rid of me, the things I know, the conventional ideas I was taught and brought up with, so that the myth can come through. I become a channel, a communicator, scarcely a painter at all’. While Roberts is experiencing how it felt like to live...
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