PhD Abstract: Makeshift, Abstraction and the Australian Patina

Ned Kelly’s armour, the Eureka flag, and the premise that underlies the title of the most famous exhibition in Australian art history; the 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition held in Melbourne in 1889, are makeshift. This exegesis records the spirit of ‘making do’ or ‘makeshift’ in Australia’s post-settlement history including its manifestation in art. As this history is traced, the role of the harsh Australian landscape, and assertions of cultural convergence in post-settlement history, raised by historians including Russel Ward and Philip Jones are explored. Makeshift maps this country’s history of adversity, and popular bush story tellers, including Henry Lawson, contributed to makeshift flourishing in Australia and developing ‘everyday’ cultural associations.

Four decades after the Dada art movement in France, mid-twentieth century Australian critics had difficulty classifying the work of the Annandale Imitation Realists. Subsequent artists, including John Davis, have arrived at visually similar outcomes to some Indigenous art via a utilisation of materials in the landscape, combined with methodologies associated with the Australian tradition to ‘make do’. The chronological recording in this exegesis includes the Australian lyrical abstract painters; Ian Fairweather, Elwyn Lynn and Tony Tuckson.

‘Makeshift’ would appear to be a universal humanistic response to need. When Australian Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists reference the same regional landscape there is sometimes a technical overlap that I refer to as the ‘Australian patina’. Visual similarities exist in the paintings of the leading Australian lyrical abstractionists (including Tuckson) and some leading contemporary Indigenous painters (including Emily Kam Kngwarray).

Australia’s makeshift heritage has contemporary relevance to our search for sustainable future solutions to global warming and the 2008–9 World Economic Crisis. ‘Rough and ready’ Australian makeshift values inform my abstract painting process and choice of materials. A legacy passed to me from my grandparents who lived through the 1930s Great Depression.

Terri Brooks, 2009 
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