The Alcoa gift to the National Gallery of Australia
view press release>>
This generous gift by Alcoa World Alumina Australia to the National Gallery of Australia is an important addition to in the Gallery’s collection. It is also an outstanding example of corporate support
of the arts.
The gift comprises six works by some of Australia’s most highly regarded painters. These artists have all interpreted the landscape in decidedly individualistic ways, adding to our understanding and appreciation of the unique nature of this continent that we inhabit.
Alcoa has made a significant contribution to the arts in Australia. This latest gift to the National Gallery of Australia will allow all Australians to enjoy these wonderful works of art.
Ron Radford AM
Director, National Gallery of Australia
Playground at Piraeus
More than any other Australian painter, Jeffrey Smart has explored the aesthetics of our modern, constructed world. Born in Adelaide in 1921, he recalled: ‘In my early 20s I decided I’d painted my last billabong scene forever’.1 He instead devoted himself to painting images unique to our time: highways, airports, apartment blocks and factories. Smart asks us to look again at such prosaic subjects and to consider the possibility of discovering a new form of beauty in them. As he said:
I like living in the twentieth century – to me the world has never been more beautiful. I am trying to paint the real world I live in, as beautifully as I can, with my own eye.2
Waiting for the train
Smart has returned to the subject of waiting on a number of occasions. In Waiting for the train a comparison with Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is unmistakable and the timelessness of the moment of waiting becomes the subject of this work. In Playground at Piraeus the sharp realism of Smart’s work is played out against the uncertainty of the narrative. A man walks purposefully into the middle distance where a woman waits on a park bench. She turns to watch him but are they destined to meet? The transience of the moment is in contrast to the stability of the composition, which is such an important aspect of Smart’s works.
Fred Williams is one of Australia’s most important artists. His powerful depictions of the Australian landscape have changed the way in which we perceive the unique topography and vegetation of this country. Williams devised his own formal language of mark-making and spatial configuration, combining his interest in contemporary abstraction with his enduring concern to express the essence of place.
Williams was born in Melbourne in 1927 and died in 1982. From the 1950s the Australian landscape was to become his major preoccupation. His distinctive vision is suggested by his thoughts about place:
It’s perfectly true, [the Australian landscape] is monotonous … There is no focal point, and obviously it was too good a thing for me to pass up … if there’s going to be no focal point in a landscape it had to [be built] into the paint.3
Landscape was most likely painted at Cavan, a historic property on the Murrumbidgee River near Yass, New South Wales, in 1977.4 In this work Williams emphasises the predominantly horizontal topography of the landscape, the vast sky and the sparse vegetation scattered across the dry earth.
Landscape with rocks in the foreground
Ray Crooke is renowned for his paintings of the people and landscapes of tropical Queensland and the Pacific. Born in Melbourne in 1922, throughout his long career Crooke has made numerous painting trips to Queensland, the Torres Strait Islands, New Guinea and Fiji, settling permanently in Cairns in 1976.
Crooke has also been attracted to the sparse, dry, interior of the continent. In 1967, on the invitation of the West Australian Government he visited Mt Tom Price, Mt Newman and Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberleys. Among the paintings inspired by this trip was Landscape with rocks in foreground.
Ant hill country, Laura
In 1969 Crooke joined a four-man expedition that retraced the route taken by goldminers across the Great Divide from Cooktown to the Palmer goldfields in North Queensland. This trip provided the subject matter for many paintings, including Ant hill country, Laura. Of these works his close friend, writer George Johnston, wrote:
This flow of time, this stillness, this mystical awareness of waiting, are strikingly present in many of Crooke’s latest Palmer River gold rush paintings … The pigments of his palette have the shimmering delicacy of memory and nostalgia. He is concerned with a glimpsed, muted, immobile, strangely haunted landscape, where the flow of time past, and time present, and time eternal is an almost visible portrayable thing.5
Ferns and flowers
Robert Juniper is one of Western Australia’s leading landscape artists. He was born in Merredin, Western Australia, in 1929 and was recently honoured as a Living Treasure by the Western Australian government. In his work Juniper celebrates the uniqueness of the Western Australian landscape:
My aim is to express aesthetically, in an evolved and personal language, a pattern of ideas and memories; the haunting remoteness of the Western Australian landscape, timelessness and agelessness composites; the microscopic picture suggested by an insect’s wing, or the arbitrary bas reliefs made by grubs under tree bark.6
In Ferns and flowers colour, texture and materials are used in a spontaneous manner, appearing light and unconstrained. The richly textured surface opens to reveal imprints of an earlier pattern overlaid with subtle colour notations. The nominal subject – abstractions of ferns, flowers and seedpods – serve as foil to the luscious surface. In this work Juniper references a psychological and pictorial interpretation of space, blending feelings about the landscape with precise observations of natural forms.
1Jeffrey Smart, quoted in Janet Hawley, Sydney Morning Herald, 17 August 1996.
2Jeffrey Smart, quoted in Jeffrey Smart retrospective, Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2000, p20.
3Fred Williams to James Gleeson, 1978, quoted in Irena Zdanowicz & Stephen Coppel, Fred Williams: an Australian vision, London: The British Museum Press, 2003, p77.
4Information provided by Lyn Williams in correspondence with Dr Deborah Hart, Senior Curator Australian Painting and Sculpture, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 29 August 2005.
5George Johnston, Foreword, in The Palmer River paintings by Ray Crooke, Brisbane: The Johnstone Gallery, June 1970.
6Robert Juniper, 1979, quoted in Ella Fry, Gallery images, Perth: St George Books, 1984, p52.