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Australian art Moderns

During the period between the First and Second World Wars, a number of Australian artists created distinctive images that responded to the realities of their modern urban lives and work.  It was a time of diverse social and economic impact and included the Great Depression.  Perceptions of national identity were changing, as were attitudes to the land. Many Australian artists were influenced at this time by works of early twentieth century European modernism.

At this time Russell Drysdale responded to the vastness of the rural and outback Australian landscapes with rich deep-red colours and expressive images of the country in drought.  By contrast, Rah Fizelle considered the city in a cubist manner and Peter Purves Smith depicted the city and its inhabitants in a surreal way.  Celebrated photographer Max Dupain took some of the most iconic early Australian photographs of Australians at leisure on Sydney’s beaches. 

In addition, a small group of artists began to explore pure abstraction and created striking geometric compositions of colour and shape. Roy de Maistre and Roland Wakelin created some of Australia’s first modernist abstract and semi-abstract works as they explored how a musical scale might be conveyed through colour.  Grace Crowley and Ralph Balson are also very well known for their abstract explorations of colour and shape that continued well into the 1950s.