Three Great Australians uncovered

Story by Jack Foley

THE Rebecca Hossack Gallery (RHG) in London will be presenting a new exhibition, entitled Three Great Australians, from Thursday, April 11 until Saturday, May 4, featuring the work of acclaimed artists Arthur Boyd, John Cato and Sidney Nolan.

Nolan was born in Melbourne, Victoria on April 22, 1917, and studied intermittently at the National Gallery of Victoria School from 1934, and later engraving and lithography under SW Hayter at the Atelier 17, in Paris.

During the Second World War, he was conscripted and served at Dimboola in the Wimmera District of Victoria.

He was associated with the avant-garde literary journal, Angry Penguins, with John Reed and Max Harris and painted individual interpretations of historical and legendary figures such as Ned Kelly (for which he is probably most famous), Mrs Fraser, Rimbaud, Burke and Wills, with which he attained international acclaim.

From 1950 he lived mainly in Britain. He also designed for the ballet and opera and provided illustrations for books. He was awarded the CBE in 1963 and was knighted in 1981.

In 1987 he was honoured with a retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, which toured Australian state capitals in 1987-88. He died in London in November 1992.

The collection of his work at the RHG promises to offer an intriguing insight into the great artist's best work, including the above lithograph of his acclaimed piece, Girls.

John Cato, meanwhile, is described as an artist who searches for the soul of the Australian landscape (not the obvious spectacle). Accorinding to the RHG website, 'he wants to present the tragic fate of Australia's original inhabitants in his pictures of the Australian landscape'.

The first part of his exhibition, entitled 'Dream Pictures', feature a collection of 11 meditative pictures which symbolize 'the close connection of the Australian traditional owners with their landscape'. To achieve his desired effect, Cato would search for a deserted waterhole in a bleak landscape and spend many weeks just to photograph a few square centimetres of grass and their reflection in the water.

The collection took months of patient work, and the resulting exhibitoin will consist of images of a few pieces of grass and of a small slope, which is mirrored in the water. According to the RHG, what is 'reality' and what is 'mirrored' can no longer be distinguished.

The second part of the exhibition features Cato speaking of the traumatic fate of the Aborigines whose spiritual way of living, adhered to over thousands of years, was destroyed by the Europeans after a brutal conquest. In order to achieve this, Cato has photographed fences, which are 'symbols of destruction of a life in freedom and of conquest and rape of the earth'.

"The fences run as ugly scars through the landscape, a landscape destroyed by the herds of European owned cattle," continues the RHG website. "Again, John Cato requires only 11 photographs in order to show the catastrophe. A few rotten fence posts, rusty wire, totally dried out earth.

What makes these photographs so sympathetic and also so touching is, in the final analysis, the modesty of the photographer. John Cato does not require anything sensational, no tricks or anything else. His personality completely recedes behind his subject theme."

An example of Cato's work, a limited edition photograph entitled Double Concerto, is pictured right.

Finally, Arthur Boyd was considered to be one of Australia's most widely respected and prolific artists. He was born in 1920 in Melbourne, was conscripted into the Australian Army during World War Two, and was part of a dynamic generation of Australian artists and thinkers which included Nolan, Max Harris, Albert Tucker and Joy Hester. He died on April 24, 1999.

Boyd spent time living in Britain as well as in Australia and bought the property, Bundanon, in Australia's south-east, in 1972. He gave Bundanon to the Australian people in 1990 as a refuge for artists and musicians and an education centre was opened there in 1999. Arthur Boyd was Australian of the Year in 1995.

Three Great Australians can be viewed at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery until Saturday, May 4.

RHG, 35 Windmill Street, London W1T 2JS. Tel: 0207-436 4899
Opening hours: Monday - Saturday, 10am - 6pm

Rebecca Hossack uncovered, gallery details. Click here