Thursday, March 19, 2015

Dark Paintings & Fair Portraits

“To Sing of death and disaster does not make for popularity, I’m afraid.
But it is my song and I’ve got to sing it.”
Albert Tucker

The Australian artist Albert Tucker was 14 1/2 when he left school and got a job as a house painter to help support his family. It was the start of the depression and for this working class family trying to live a middle class life style all hands were required to keep the creditors at bay.

It wasn’t a difficult decision for the young Tucker who considered a formal education irrelevant for his chosen life’s work. As told he told the Australian Biography project’s Robin Hughes about his first day of schooling “What am I doing here? I don't want to learn all this rubbish. It's nothing to do with me. I'm going to be an artist.”

And that five year olds prophetic statement became a reality. Tucker is considered to be one of Australia’s foremost artists of the 20th Century. He was an important proponent of the introduction of modernism into Australian art as well as a highly respect portraitist.

Painting in an expressive style influenced by European modernists like Picasso, Matisse and Dali, Tucker’s works were also influence by the shattered minds and bodies of the returning soldiers from the Second World War he encountered at the Heidelberg Military Hospital. Images, which haunted his non-portrait painting for the rest of his life and about which he said “I had by nose rubbed in it with all those events in the army, the hospital, and then the post-war period when I went to Japan and to Europe.

Prior to leaving for Europe Tucker was forced to work in series of jobs he detested because “everything I did [paintings] everyone thought I was out of my mind, or took no notice of it,” he said. After the failure of his marriage Tucker headed overseas stating, tongue in cheek, to a local newspaper “Well I'm a refugee from Australian culture.”

After a decade in Europe, Tucker spent two years in America. The purchase of two of his works by New York’s Museum of Modern Art provided the recognition necessary for successful exhibitions upon his return to Australia.

Along with his contemporaries Sydney Nolan and Russell Drysdale he was instrumental in putting Australian art on the international map. But through it all Tucker painted for himself, as he has said “There's only one audience I'm interested in. If he's satisfied that's the beginning and end of it as far as I'm concerned. And if other people then like it, well that's just a bonus.

The exhibition Albert Tucker: The Truth in Masquerade is currently on show at Melbourne’s Heide Museum of Modern Art until the 16th of August.

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