Australia’s place in the world of art has been one of both struggle and natural opportunity. For those who don’t yet know it well, the continent is a rich resource of beautiful, sweeping landscapes, and of different climates and figures in both flora and fauna. This combined with the rugged, often nationalistic lifestyle that those in the rural areas claim as an identity, have given rise to unique artistic creations, schools, and movements which still have enough shared qualities to resonate with lovers of art.
Artists came with the colonization of the continent, and were immediately taken with the wealth of new landscapes, new vistas, and entirely unknown plants and animals. These earliest artists struggled with the idea of trying to fit the visual cornucopia Australia had to offer into the more defined, rigid tastes and styles of their native European art, and a form of adaptation took place that continues to this very day.
The Heidelberg School
The first art movement of Australia, and one of its most influential, The Heidelberg School centered on painting the landscape of the country. The movement began in 1891, and it’s also known as Australian Impressionism. The term goes on to cover artists of the area who painted in an Impressionist style that most of the world is familiar with, but with its particular focus and flavor of Australian life, it was its own, distinct style. Famous painters from this era include Fredrick McCubbin, and Charles Conder.
In the 1950’s, Australian art began to shift from more conservative painting styles, to those preferred by “abstractionists,” who favor the idea of visual language over literal depiction which is referred to those who call themselves “figurists.” Notable abstractionists from this period include Nancy Borlase, originally a New Zealand native, Grace Crowley, and Geoffrey de Groen. Through abstractionist paintings weren’t new to Australia’s art culture; it was during this period that the two schools of thought came into competition.
A new school, defined by the use of popular imagery and themes from culture, challenging both abstract and conservative art, often with bold colors and themes that were very explicit about their core message. Pop art began in the 1950’s, but is typically regarded to have started in Australia with the popularity of Richard Larter, whose main themes centered on women.
In Modern Times
Artists like Michael Johnson continue the abstractionist philosophy with brand new tools and perspectives on the subject, while others, like Lindy Lee, work with paintings based on historic places and imagery, along with a unique aesthetic of wax and oil. The modern art scene is much more globally connected than its ever been, but it’s only been fairly recently that globally recognized art fairs, such as those held in Sydney in 2013, have been not only successful, but encouraging for much larger exhibitions and festivals of Australia’s native collections. With the possibilities that the internet can provide, there are now even more ways to appreciate the art that’s coming out of a thriving, distinct culture.