Ewa PACHUCKA | Landscape and bodies

Poland 1936
To Australia 1971. To Tasmania 1975.

Landscape and bodies 1972
jute, hemp, wire
overall approx. 202.0 (h) x 308.0 (w) x 302.0 (d) cm
Purchased 1973
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
NGA 1973.306.A-Q


The idea of craft was reassessed during the late 1960s and early 1970s, both in Australia and overseas. In an era characterised by robust feminist activity, changing cultural assessments elevated the repute of textile traditions such as knitting and weaving. The exclusionary doctrines of fine art, which privileged aesthetic enjoyment over manual dexterity. were replaced with an appreciation of the skill of the maker.

Ewa Pachucka was enthused by the revolutionary admiration afforded to craft.[1] Originally trained as a painter, printmaker and sculptor at the Lublin Art College, and then the Lodz Academie of Fine Art in her native Poland, Pachucka abandoned painting in the 1960s, choosing instead to create landscapes populated by anonymous life-sized figures. The grand dimensions of the artist’s installations required that she work in a medium suitable to her domestic setting and, as a result, she began to experiment with the techniques of crochet and macramé.

In 1971 Pachucka, with her husband Romeck, immigrated to Hobart, Tasmania. Soon afterwards, she created Landscape and bodies, a monumental work that exploits the properties of organic materials, including jute fibre and hemp thread. The convincingly human figures display delicate delineations of movement and form―the result of laborious hand-stitching on the part of the artist. Pachucka explained, ‘I try to master my ability with fibres because this material is more human than marble or wood. To me it looks more like flesh.’[2] Pachucka’s use of the word ‘bodies’ in the title of the work highlights her preoccupation with visceral forms as opposed to human figures.

The composition of Landscape and bodies recalls ancient civilisations, such as devastated Pompeii. Pachucka’s figures seem asleep, expressing the pathos of the human condition. The artist’s monochromatic palette, coupled with the generalised facial features of her figures, refute notions of individuality. Communal discourse, tinged with a hint of nostalgia, informs the artist’s aesthetic, with Pachucka noting: ‘I want to give an impression of the bodies relating to each other and to us. Each of them is not important in itself. It is the crowd, the community, I want to reveal.’[3] The installation is visually united by a decoratively patterned quality. Knots are repeated to engender a facade where the artist’s carefully calculated use of colour and texture make for varying surface qualities.

Pachucka’s textile works reflect her progressive ideologies—she hoped to establish a general cooperative in Tasmania to produce practical folk textiles such as floor carpets and wall coverings. Utilising existing natural resources, she envisaged cottage industry practitioners and homemakers alike recycling discarded cotton to spin and dye natural fleece. The collective workshop was to create a utopian society whose inhabitants relied solely upon source materials from the local environment.

While her idealistic project failed to reach fruition, Pachucka remained a resolute advocate of the textile medium. Favouring substances with domestic connotations, such as fibre and cloth, Pachucka’s work drew attention to the overlooked labour of women in art traditions outside painting and sculpture. Imperfections of technique, once considered a defect that devalued the merit of craft, are, in Pachucka’s oeuvre, considered marks of distinction.

Lisa McDonald
International Art
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra


[1] The artist’s surname is pronounced ‘Pahutzka’

[2] April Hersey, ‘Ewa Pachuka: craft of the people’, Craft Australia, no 2, 1977, p 18

[3] April Hersey, 1977, p 18