Modernism in Australia Essay

The introduction of modernism to Australia is a more complex phenomenon than previously thought. Choose an aspect of Modernism, either Cubism or Surrealism or Expressionism or Modernist Design and Architecture and chart their development in Australia by focusing on the work of two artists, designers or architects.

The Modernist movement in Australia is inspired by the European avant-garde. In the mid-1910s, the first wave of modernism is felt through the influx of migrants, exhibitions and expatriates. In the following five decades, modernism experienced turbulent changes like economic depression, global wars, technological advances and massive social change, which undoubtedly further influenced the artistic output of Australian modernists. The introduction of modernism to Australia is a more complex phenomenon. Its complex and unfamiliar language often experienced passionate and strong resistance from the general masses.

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The development of modernist sentiments is largely the result of spasmodic cultural transformations and the ensuing creative exchanges between architects, modern artists and designers. For the purpose of research, this paper will solely deal with Surrealism, an important aspect of Modernism and chart its development through two contemporary Australian surrealists – James Gleeson and Sidney Nolan.

Before beginning our discussion on the chosen Australian surrealists, background discussion of surrealism, its influence and impact, is necessary. Surrealism is the first international art movement in Australia. In fact, European surrealists perceive Australia as a “surrealist place” because of its vastness, its distance from the other continents and its appeal as a “down under”. When the surrealist movement b…

… the greatest achievements of any painter, not only in Australia, but anywhere in the world, working in our time.”

A comparison of Nolan and Gleeson attitude towards surrealistic paintings reveals a clear distinction: while Nolan’s painting is mostly defined by social-political environment of those times without offering any opinions; Gleeson’s surrealism expresses the human conscious, subconscious and unconscious mind. While Nolan is involved in displaying the heroisms of Ned Kelly; Gleeson is obsessed with portraying mankind universal struggle from barriers. Nevertheless, both the styles resonated well with the Australian masses. In other words, their artistic works fulfils cultural transformation of a certain period of time and both the painters contribute equally to change the perspective of people viewing Australia, the outback, for the very first time.


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