CIVIL | Not titled (help).

Australia 1978

Not titled (help). 2003
artist's proof
no manufacturer's mark
Signed lower right below image in black pen 'CIVIL'. Undated. Titled printed centre within image, in black ink 'HELP'.
printed image (irregular) 77.0 (h) x 54.0 (w) cm
Gordon Darling Australia Pacific Print Fund 2007
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
NGA 2007.49.14


A lone hand reaches out of the water seeking help in a seemingly bleak, desperate situation.  The bright yellow-filled speech bubble draws the viewer’s eye to the vital heavy black text, the edges of which are severed giving a sense of a sinking feeling – of one’s hopes fading.   The yellow droplets splashed across the page are possibly an allusion to frantic splashing.

On its surface, the image appears to portray a simple case of ‘man overboard’ where the key subject has apparently fallen off the ship featured in the background of the work and is in need of rescue.  Those familiar with the artist’s work may, however, suspect that other themes are at play here.

Since 1999, prominent Melbourne street artist Tom Civil has been producing satirical artworks that often comment on the contemporary Australian political landscape, and a number of social and ethical issues, through strong graphic design imagery.  Viewed in this context, one is made to wonder whether the scene depicted in Not Titled (help) is intended to evoke thoughts of the now infamous ‘Children Overboard’ saga which proceeded the 2001 Australian Federal Election, or whether it suggests a broader abandonment of indigenous Australians by white European settlers.

The unambiguous visual and compositional aspects of this and other works of Civil’s are striking, memorable and effective in communicating the element of protest with respect to contemporary political issues. Civil also creates woodcuts and murals, and publishes numerous zines.

Karie Wilson

Street by Lister

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