Thames & Hudson

After The Australian Ugliness edited by Naomi Stead, Tom Lee, Ewan McEoin, and Megan Patty

by
August 2021, no. 434

Robin Boyd was that rare thing, an architect more famous for a book than for his buildings.

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‘The tourist travels in his own atmosphere like a snail and stands, as it were, on his own perambulating doorstep to look at the continents of the world. But if you discard all this, and sally forth with a leisurely and blank mind, there is no knowing what may not happen to you.’ Thus, in 1928, British writer Freya Stark, an intrepid traveller, described the distinction between a traveller and a tourist. British historian Peter Furtado’s new anthology, Great Cities Through Travellers’ Eyes, is squarely aimed at the former. In it he collects the writings of a diverse group of writers about thirty-eight different cities, over a period dating from ancient times to the 1980s (more on that later). Some writers, such as Marco Polo, Hans Christian Anderson, and Simone de Beauvoir, are well known, others less so.

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A year after her death, Mirka Mora is still regarded as a ‘phenomenon’ in the Melbourne art world, not least for her vibrant personality and provocative behaviour. Now Sabine Cotte, a French-Australian painting conservator, in this modest account of her research into the artist’s methods and materials, offers a new perspective on Mora’s creative process and the significance of her work.

Mora – a creative innovator until her death at the age of ninety – was a dedicated, self-taught artist who studied the Old Masters and refined her painting techniques. She is widely known for her dolls (soft sculptures), her tapestries, and her murals. People who took part in her textile workshops often report that she changed their lives. Her public art is still visible in cafés, bookshops, railway stations, and on St Kilda Pier, guaranteeing her a continuing presence in Melbourne’s cultural and social life.

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Giotto’s frescoes invite us to ponder the nature of what we instinctively, conveniently, but not very satisfactorily call realism. Compared to the work of his predecessors, these images have a new kind of material presence. Bodies become solid, take on mass and volume, and occupy space ...

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The story of art could be framed as a narrative of tension between the boundless creative imagination of artists and the practical limitations – including instability, scarcity, even toxicity – of their materials. As master paint-maker David Coles explains in this wonderful book ...

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This well-illustrated volume documents through its analysis of art exhibitions the massive rise of Australia’s art gallery attendances over a period of more than forty years. Before the late 1960s, only a few hundred thousand people visited Australian galleries each year ...

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‘I kept thinking: if his face looks like this, what must his balls look like?’ David Hockney’s assessment of the craggy countenance of W.H. Auden is clipped and convenient, but I suspect Auden would have been far more interesting on the subject of sitting for Hockney. Given the concentration and quality of the encounters between English portrait painters or sculptors and their subjects, it is slightly odd that more writers have not published accounts of the experience of sitting for their portrait.

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Romantic Moderns,like this year’s wisteria in England, is catching the attention of many. Both are very English phenomena; and while Oxbridge colleges and London’s residential streets drip purple blossom, this new title has won the Guardian newspaper’s first book award and been shortlisted for two other eminent prizes. Public interest has been further stimulated by word of mouth, while excellent packaging, in terms of product design and well-chosen illustrations, has turned this book into a popular gift. It is also the subject of much debate. Few would deny that by the late 1930s in England a concerted project of national self-discovery was under way. But surely this was a shameful retreat? Didn’t it mean a return to the past, to safe traditions and to a ‘Little England’ mentality, after the wider and more progressive embrace of international modernism? Or is Alexandra Harris right to talk of a modern English renaissance which, as it unfolded fully in the 1940s, proved bold, timely, necessary, and of undeniable cultural significance?

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‘There was a man who loved islands. He was born on one, but it didn’t suit him, as there were too many other people on it, besides himself.’ So begins D.H. Lawrence’s bleak little fable ‘The Man Who Loved Islands’. Lawrence’s islander wants control, sole possession, mastery of people and place. When his first island, fertile and beautiful, fails him because of the vast expense of making it perfect, he moves to a smaller one where, without love or desire, he drifts into marriage and fatherhood. Again he escapes. On the third and final island – a barren rock – his total isolation brings madness and death. The moral is clear. Lawrence thought of community as essential; without it we cannot be human.

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