Arts

Frances Burke (1904–94) was the leading textile designer in Melbourne from the 1940s to the 1960s. Her modernist furnishing fabrics, preferred by architects, interior designers, department stores, and homemakers, were popular in domestic and commercial interiors, and her reputation was national. Her design skills were complemented by a good head for business and her command of all aspects of production, distribution, and marketing. The distinctive style of her textile designs is neatly summarised by the authors of this splendid volume: ‘ A single, bright colour and clean, simple linework printed on quality cotton or linen made Frances Burke’s designs modern in style, instantly identifiable and very appealing.’ Burke’s wide-ranging design sources included flora and fauna, indigenous and exotic themes, as illustrated in a selection of her titles: Canna Leaf, Tiger Lily, Seapiece, Totem, Rangga, Pacifica and Moresque.

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Patrick White’s plays are conventionally assigned a marginal place in the landscape of his writing. Historically, they have either been regarded as poetic but unconvincing extensions of the performative dimensions of his prose, or as fundamentally misconceived exercises in contempt. Tim Winton spoke for the latter camp when, writing in the London Review of Books (22 June 1995), he dismissed White’s dramatic work as a ‘long and wasteful engagement with the theatre and its poisonous hangers-on’. Winton’s judgement is informed by a solitary model of authorship that can be applied to the rural metaphysics of White’s Castle Hill novels but that is increasingly inapplicable to the urbane satires his work became following his move to inner-Sydney in 1964.

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Since the time of celebrated figure painter Gu Kaizhi (345–406 CE) of the Jin dynasty (266–420 CE), artists in China have been researchers of sorts. Over millennia, a scholarly ideal in painting would emerge. Late in their working lives, many artists sought an aesthetic that was uncontrived and conformed to the inner workings of nature. For Nanjing-based art historian Xue Xiang, this was Fairweather’s achievement. A Scottish-born artist, son of civil servants to the British Raj, war survivor, migrant, vagabond, builder of makeshift rafts and huts, well-connected recluse, acclaimed foster child of Australian art: what makes Ian Fairweather resonate with Chinese artists across millennia?

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About as eminent an academic philosopher as they come these days, Robert B. Pippin made his reputation with a sequence of brilliant studies rehabilitating the great names of German Idealism – Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel – for a (mainly) baby boomer American audience. In the wake of the path-breaking interventions of Wilfrid Sellars and Richard Rorty, Pippin, alongside such colleagues as Terry Pinkard, Robert Brandom, and John McDowell, has argued for a version of the essentially dialogic nature of all philosophy, which seeks to bring together metalogical ratiocinations and nitty-gritty semantic theories with reflections on the diversity of social interactions.

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Max Dupain, one of Australia’s most accomplished photographers, was filled with self-doubt. He told us so – repeatedly – in public commentary, especially during the 1980s, in the last years of his life. It is striking how candid he was, how personal, verging on the confessional, and how little attention we paid to what he said, either during his lifetime or since (he died in 1992, aged eighty-one).

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Constantin Brâncuşi famously said that making a work of art is not in itself a difficult thing: the hard part is putting oneself in the necessary state of mind. Eleanor Clayton’s new biography of English sculptor Barbara Hepworth is in its own way a celebration of just how devoted Hepworth was to maintaining that elusive state of mind to which Brâncuşi referred. Unlike Sally Festing’s Hepworth biography, A Life of Forms (1995), Clayton eschews any attempt to narrate or analyse Hepworth’s private feelings or emotional make-up. Instead she narrows her focus most austerely to the practice of the working sculptor, her aesthetic philosophies, and the compelling yet subtle variations of her output.

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Pride of Place describes in detail a selection of the outstanding collection of Australian books, paintings, photographs, and prints that Russell and Mabel Grimwade donated to the University of Melbourne. The main focus is on Russell, but they were clearly a team with shared interests in Australian native trees and plants and the European history of Australia.

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With his founding of the Bauhaus in 1919, the German architect Walter Gropius proposed a radical reimagining of the arts and crafts. His manifesto outlined the principles for an institution that would unify architecture, art, and design, creating ‘a new guild of craftsmen, free of the divisive class pretensions that endeavoured to raise a prideful barrier between craftsmen and artists!’ At the heart of this stirring vision was a world in which creativity was directed to practical ends, where function was a fundamental element of creative endeavour. Gropius’s call was both inspiring and timely, and it found ready devotees. In a continent savaged by four years of war, there was urgent need for a new way. Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, and Oskar Schlemmer were a few of the many who made their way to the German city of Weimar to work with Gropius and to help realise his vision.

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Cy Twombly: Making past present edited by Christine Kondoleon with Kate Nesin

by
April 2021, no. 430

If you were fortunate enough to take Franz Philipp’s course in Medieval and Renaissance Art at the University of Melbourne in the 1960s – the old Fine Arts B – you would have quickly encountered Erwin Panofsky’s masterpiece, Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art (1960). It set forth authoritatively the argument that from the Carolingian revival in the eighth century through the Ottonian and Romanesque survivals, culminating in the Italian Renaissance of the quattrocento and cinquecento, Western art was haunted by the spectre of antiquity. Admiration for its mighty surviving works throughout western Europe turned steadily towards emulating them.

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The history of art history in the West over the past five hundred years is rich and complex and yet rests on clear historiographical foundations, themselves grounded in inescapable historical realities. Authors and artists in the Renaissance looked back to the civilisation of Greco-Roman antiquity, all but lost in the catastrophe of the fall of the Roman Empire and succeeded by centuries of dramatic cultural regression. They sought to regain the greatness of antiquity, and the bolder even hoped to surpass it.

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