A fierce debate over abstract and figurative art was prevalent in Australia in the 1950s and ‘60s. While abstraction was already apparent in Australia, it was still dominated by notions of the landscape. Within another decade or two, it had entered formal artistic discussion with modern influences coming from America, resulting in Australian artists defining themselves through the new labels of pop, op, minimal, hard-edge, liminal, kinetic, action and more.
In the 1960s the Sydney 9 group was founded, including artists Stan Rapotec, Robert Klippel and Clement Meadmore, who held an exhibition of paintings and sculpture to rival the more figurative Melbourne Antipodeans. Whilst these two groups presented different and, in some regards, opposing ideals, they both greatly contributed to the development of abstraction in Australia.
From the early 1960s, new forms of abstraction were developing amongst the avant-garde. Many Australian artists were European trained emigres, Australian artists who had studied in Europe and New York, or were influenced by international exhibitions that toured Australia during the period. The MoMA travelling exhibition ‘Two Decades of American Painting’ which toured to Melbourne and Sydney in 1967 inspired many Australian painters of the time. This was evidenced through The National Gallery of Victoria’s landmark 1968 exhibition ‘The Field’, which presented 74 works by 40 artists who explored hard-edge, colour-field, geometric and op art techniques.
Across these pivotal decades, it was also the availability of new art materials that helped shape the development of Australian abstraction. In the 1940s and 50s, new types of paints were introduced that were fast-drying, allowing for a more fluid and clean finish, and with stronger colour retention. The 1960s saw the introduction of acrylic emulsions, with Liquitex one of the main suppliers for artists. By the 1960s, therefore, artists were eagerly experimenting with bright colour – largely due to the new selection of synthetic pigments now available on the market. With an array of new materials to experiment with and new artistic styles to delve into, the younger artists of the day were no longer burdened by the tensions of the public and critical opinion, but by the sheer scope of choice.
Is it these artists of the 1950s and 60s in Australia that have formed some of our most significant exhibitions to date, participated in history-changing artistic debate and paved the way for a new generation of Australian abstractionists.
OLIVIA FULLER / Head of Art
Banner Image Detail: WILLIAM DELAFIELD COOK (1936-2015) Green Cage No. 2 1969, oil on canvas, 91 x 100.5cm | $6,000-8,000