Here are a selection of Australian artists whose work thematises place, to reflect the introduction of the visual collaboration prize, for the 2016 Baringhup Category. These artists provide their viewers with expressions of love of place and identity, along with troubling or vexatious expressions of degradation, alienation, dispossession, colonialism, suffering and disaster. Sometimes the artwork is an invitation to think less on theme, and instead to simply respond to the atmospheric, quieting, moody or otherwise affective quality of the mark-marking.
Emily Kame Kngwarreye is one of Australia’s most significant contemporary artists. Emily was born at the beginning of the twentieth century and grew up in a remote desert area known as Utopia, 230 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs, distant from the art world that sought her work.
Although Emily began to paint late in her life she was a prolific artist who often worked at a pace that belied her advanced age. It is estimated that she produced over 3000 paintings in the course of her eight-year painting career — an average of one painting per day.
For virtually two-thirds of her life she had only sporadic contact with the outside world. It was not until she was about 80 that she became, almost overnight, an artist of national and international standing.
Her remarkable work was inspired by her cultural life as an Anmatyerre elder, and her lifelong custodianship of the women’s Dreaming sites in her clan Country, Alhalkere.
John Olsen’s exuberant paintings, which were first exhibited in Sydney in the 1950s, are often celebrations of Sydney, Majorca, marine life, good food and sunshine. He is an abstract artist whose work remains grounded in the landscape or in evocations of poetry, a painter whose distinctive curvilinear style continually pays homage to the quality of a wandering line.
Tracey Moffatt is probably Australia’s most successful artist ever, both nationally and internationally. She is certainly one of the few Australian artists to have established a global market for her work. A filmmaker as well as photographer, Moffatt has held around 100 solo exhibitions of her work in Europe, the United States and Australia. Her films, including Nightcries – A Rural Tragedy, 1989, and Bedevil, 1993, have been screened at the Cannes Film Festival, the Dia Centre for the Arts in New York and the National Centre for Photography in Paris.
My work over the last thirty years has been a search to discover how we dwell and move within landscape. I have lived and worked all over the continent from the mountains of Tasmania to the floodplains of Arnhem land. I see myself as a hybrid mix of artist and scientist; one who tries to relate the minutiae of the natural world – leaf, feather and beetle wing – to the abstract dimensions of the earth’s dynamic systems. Using techniques of watercolour, collage, frottage, nature printing and other methods of direct physical or kinetic contact I am finding ways of collaborating with the actual plants, birds, trees, rocks and earth of a particular place.
Stella Bowen, painter and writer, grew up in Adelaide, where she studied with Margaret Preston. She left Adelaide in 1914 to live in England and France for the rest of her life. Over the course of a nine-year relationship with the English writer Ford Madox Ford she painted many portraits of their friends, including Aldous Huxley, Edith Sitwell, Gertrude Stein and TS Eliot. She achieved some success in the US, but she is best-known in Australia for the works of art she completed as an official war artist in Britain in World War II, particularly those depicting the actions of the Bomber Command and the return of prisoners of war from Germany. Many of these paintings are in the collection of the Australian War Memorial, which mounted a major retrospective exhibition of Bowen’s works in 2002.
A realist painter of modern urban life, John Brack emerged during the 1950s in Melbourne as an artist of singular originality and independence. His highly cerebral, smooth and hard-edged painting style was unique in the context of both the expressive figuration of Melbourne contemporaries such as Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker, and the rapid growth of abstraction in his time. Delivering forthright social commentary both satirical and sympathetic, Brack’s paintings characteristically bear witness to the depersonalisation wrought by ritual. In particular the confined conditions of urban living gave him crucial insights into the loss of individuality revealed in in his stark evocation of city rush-hour crowds.
Because of the harsh light that Fiona Foley shines on the land swindles, sexual violations and wholesale massacres that have been perpetrated on Indigenous people, many observers regard her as a political artist. She rejects this label, however, and describes herself as an educator. She certainly understands the strategies used by skilled educators – story telling, surprise, humour and a huge amount of underlying research.
As one of the most prominent Indigenous Australian artists she regularly exhibits work internationally, where her photographic and installation-based work fits comfortably into a wider context of world art and postcolonial discourse. A significant aspect of her role as an artist is revealing to other countries that a continuous tradition in Australia, tens of thousands of years old, can be an active participant in contemporary culture.
Brett Whiteley is one of Australia’s most celebrated artists. He won the Art Gallery of NSW Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prizes several times, and his artistic career was bolstered by his celebrity status in Australia and overseas. He worked across painting, sculpture and the graphic arts, and is best known for his sensual and lyrical paintings of interiors, nudes and harbour scenes.