09 August 2009

John Brack at the Ian Potter Gallery, NGV

Finished today, a wonderful exhibition of works by Australian artist John Brack (1920-1999), at the Ian Potter Gallery, National Gallery of Victoria.

John Brack was born in Melbourne on 10 May 1920. He attended evening classes at the National Gallery School from 1938 to 1940 and then served in the army from 1940 to 1946. Following his discharge, he returned to the Gallery School full-time until 1949, at the end of which he destroyed almost all of his student works. He worked as an assistant framer at the National Gallery of Victoria from 1949 to 1951, and then served as art master of Melbourne Grammar school until 1962. He was then appointed head of the National Gallery School, a position he held until 1968. John Brack died in Melbourne on 11 February, 1999.

John Brack concentrated on painting, in his very personal and recognisable style, familiar scenes from everyday life. His approach is summed up in a letter he wrote to Eric Westbrook, Director, National Gallery of Victoria dated 15 April 1956:

If I choose to paint the life I see around me, it is because I find people more interesting than things. So it seems to me a worthwhile object to attempt to re-unite subject and design. This involves a certain conscious discipline, which may not be a bad thing at this time.

Another indicator of his approach is his 1965 comment:

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.

In the online promotional material for the exhibition NGV says of his art:

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.

Some of the classic paintings in the exhibition include Men’s wear (1953), The bar (1954) and Collins St., 5 p.m. (1955).

A good way to get a feel for this great Australian artist’s work is to visit the online Education Resource page here. This gives the opportunity to download an education resource in PDF format, which may be accessed directly here, or to go to the image bank which contains in zoomable format all of the images contained in the education resource.

The Exhibition will be on at the Art Gallery of South Australia from 2 October 2009 – 24 January 2010. Not to be missed.

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