Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Australian art has undergone a transition from Imperial creative expression to Antipodean figurative art, Aussie Impressionism (also known as the Heidelberg School), and Absurdist Angry Penguins.
The artists on our list are a mix of old and new Australian artists, and their art continues to amaze in schools and exhibitions. From the famous representation of Ned Kelly by Sidney Nolans to Tom Robert’s Shearing the Rams and Peter Booth’s upsetting and nefarious paintings, we examine the masters of Australian art and their most emblematic works.
Born in Carlton in 1917, Sir Sidney Nolan later became one of Australia’s most successful artists, known for his imaginative approach to all things Aussie – from the Outback to the Aussie symbology. He joined the Angry Penguins art endeavor in the 1940s and was responsible for illustrating the cover of the Ern Malley version released in June 1944.
While living in Heidi (Heidi Museum of Modern Art), Nolan started to paint his famous Ned Kelly collection. The collection follows the tale of Kelly; however, it was not meant as an accurate representation of the events that had taken place. Instead, through the novel, they bury themes of inequality, love and deception.
While Peter Booth is considered an Australian artist, it was his youth spent in the economic hub of Sheffield, England, that gives his work its gruesome quality. Booth provides audiences with mysterious images of urban and rural Aussie landscapes in a condition of surrealism.
Born in Murrumbeen in 1920, Arthur Boyd belonged to the creatively prominent Boyd family, and his voice is one of the most allegorical in contemporary art history in Australia. His work includes drawings, pottery and graphic art, frequently portraying humanitarian problems and biblical quotations in a traditional Australian context. A part of the Antipodean movement, Boyd’s work stressed the importance of symbolic arts, and his paintings also balanced impressionism with expressionism.
Installation and sculpting practice by Callum Morton was influenced by architecture and the surrounding structures. His work examines human engagement with architectural space and concepts through miniature models and facades of well-known structures. He represented Australia at the 2007 Venice Biennale with a scale replica of his family’s house, built and designed by his architect father in the 1970s in a modernist theme. Callum Morton artworks also take the form of replications of the urban world, ranging from landmark modernist structures to more everyday constructs, such as motorway overpasses, gas stations and shopping malls. His work has an unreal, dramatic or cinematic appeal, with the use of an uncommon scale and the interaction between fiction and fact.
South Melbourne-born John Brack was also a part of the Antipodeans movement, whose art defined the human psyche and Australian life in darker colors and sharp lines. His famous painting Collins St, 5 p.m. (1950) captures perfectly the drone-like obedience of working Australians and is now housed in the National Gallery. Another of his famous paintings, The Bar (1954), is a portrait of the six o’clock swill that was sold for $3.17 million. Both these drawings and most of his other work have brown voids and mustards that express an austere consistency.