Reality in flames: modern Australian art and the Second World War

Battlefield 1942 Albert Tucker ART94636Presented by the Australian War Memorial, Reality in flames: modern Australian art and the Second World War is a touring exhibition dedicated exclusively to exploring how Australian modernist artists responded creatively to the Second World War.

Reality in flames reveals how Australia’s artistic and literary culture was transformed by the war,” says Dr Brendan Nelson, Director of the Australian War Memorial. “Artists were inspired to create modern and innovative visual forms to interpret the experience of combat, the powerfully destructive machinery of war, and the vast social upheaval produced by global conflict.”

Modern Australian artists were immersed in the Second World War. They served in the armed forces, worked with labour groups or in factories, and as official artists observing, recording, and interpreting military activity.

Drawing on their immediate experiences, these men and women responded to the upheaval and anxiety of the period to create powerful imagery that explored all aspects of life during war. In particular, they were inspired to create modern and innovative visual forms to interpret the experience of combat, the powerfully destructive machinery of war, and the vast social upheaval produced by global conflict.

Consisting of 90 works – 53 paintings, 32 works on paper and 5 sculptures), the exhibition is drawn from the Australian War Memorial’s collection and includes work by leading artists such as Donald Friend, Joy Hester, Nora Heysen, Frank Hinder, Roger Kemp, Sidney Nolan, Eric Thake, Albert Tucker, and Danila Vassilieff.

Taken together, they constitute one of the most diverse and comprehensive collections of modern Australian art relating to war. Many were created through the official war art scheme, where artists were commissioned to record the experience of Australians fighting overseas or of home front wartime activity – a tradition that began during the First World War and continues today.

“This was an incredibly important period in Australia’s history; it was a time of anxiety and great change. These works present a revealing and often original engagement with this war,” says Dr Nelson.

The Australian War Memorial continues to enhance its collection of works from this period through an active program of acquisitions and donations. The collection is now one of the most diverse and comprehensive accounts of this period in Australian military, social and art history.

Reality in flames opens at Sydney’s SH Ervin Gallery from 7 March to 13 April before touring nationally. The exhibition will be presented at the Australian War Memorial during the ANZAC Centenary from June 2015.

For more information, visit: www.awm.gov.au for details.

Image: Albert Tucker (1914–1999) Battlefield, 1942 charcoal and oil pastel on paper 13 x 18 cm – courtesy of Australian War Memorial

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