indissolubly linked with the character of their art. As artists they were The claim is often made that Australians have a unique capacity for turning their backs upon that which is richest in their heritage. A more accurate assessment is that they have an even greater capacity for distorting that heritage to make for themselves a more comforting mirror. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the period spanned by this book, the two decades between the Great Depression and the beginnings of the Cold War. These were years of unparalleled intellectual and artistic ferment; they were also years that afforded scant comfort to most Australians, least of all the artists and writers who are the subject of this study. This book is about the development of a core of Australian artists: Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, Arthur Boyd, John Perceval, Yosl Bergner, Noel Counihan, Russell Drysdale and others - artists central to contemporary Australian art. It is also about their friends, patrons, allies and enemies - a portrait of a period, a generation and its art. What characterized that art above all else was a deep and pervasive concern for realism, the reality of human social and psychological experience at a time of unremitting crisis and intense intellectual struggle. This preoccupation, filtered and given form through surrealist, expressionist or social realist modes of art produced images that are amongst the most uncompromising and authoritative records of the Australian experience.
Such records were not a product of either social or intellectual isolation. The artists and the circumstances in which their works were produced are as remarkable as the images themselves. Artists and writers lived together, talked, argued, and exchanged ideas on levels and in ways that have few parallels. In part this communalism was necessitated by the actively hostile or uncomprehendingly indifferent world in which radicals found themselves in the 1930s and 1940s. It was also, however, a part of the new social values that seemed indissolubly linked with the character of their art. As artists they were also highly articulate. It was this degree of political and intellectual self-awareness and ability to communicate with force and insight in both words and paint that ultimately produced a revolution in Australia's cultural life.
This book about painting and the politics of painting aims to trace the course of a distinctly liberal and liberalizing cultural tradition, one of the least recognized of seminal traditions in this country. Such a tradition was forged at a time of almost unbroken political crisis. The 1930s and 1940s, as the era of Hitler and Stalin, were intensely political years marked by ideological crusades and cynical opportunism, the conflicting claims of nationalism and internationalism, and the experience of economic depression and total war. The impact of this climate on Australian artists was profound; these events made it possible to anticipate imminent revolution - nothing less than a violent and total overthrow of established order - and Australian radical art reflected in full measure the intensity of that climate. The transition from the radical left-wing certainties of the 1930s to a more complex and shifting set of values and moral imperatives in the 1940s helped condition the emergence of a radical and innovative modernism. On one level the consequence was a revivification of Australian art, on another a rediscovery of Australia and a sense of being Australian. Though they did not know it at the time, the artists of the 1940s had established an informed and many-levelled heritage to which Australians could return in the continuing quest for identity and sense of place. ..........................