In SunbathersAlbert Tucker projected his feelings of unease and anxiety during the Second World War onto his local landscape, Melbourne’s St Kilda beach. The ideas of recreation and play associated with the beach are replaced in this work by Tucker’s protoplasmic forms of swollen, blistered flesh. He painted Sunbathers during a period when ‘everything seemed to be seething with ideas and energy and experience’.1 In his painterly approach Tucker revealed his knowledge of German Expressionism, Surrealism and Picasso which he adapted to express his personal feelings.
In Sunbathers two figures appear as discarded lumps of flesh occupying the beach at night. Tucker reduced the human body to a bulbous landscape of headless, conical limbs. The skin appears to glow from within and the figures cast shadows in opposite directions. In this surreal landscape Tucker has reduced the beach into the basic elements of sand, sea and sky–all of which are depicted using heightened, symbolic colour. The dark band of sky evokes the tense evening ‘black-outs’ Melbourne experienced during the war.
Tucker was interested in the night-time activities of the city and between 1943 and 1947 painted a body of work that he called Images of modern evil. These paintings are powerful social commentaries that explore the dark and gritty side of urban wartime life.
1 Albert Tucker, interview by James Gleeson, 2 May 1979, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia Research Library, transcript, p. 12.