Collins Street 5pm by John Brack 1955
Months ago I did a Theme Thursday on the artist, Otto Dix, with whom I was previously unfamiliar. I spent days doing in-depth research because I was so taken with his work.
Recently, on iGoogle, "Collins St. 5 pm." popped up under Art of the Day. Again, unfamiliar with this artist, I wanted to know more. His work brought that of Dix' to mind because of his unusual portrayal of people, his use of color, his depiction of everyday life. He's one of Australia's most famous artists.
Brack once said he recalled part of T. S. Eliot’s epic poem "The Wasteland" when working on Collins St, 5p.m. John Brack Education Resource National Gallery of Victoria.
By the age of 16 years, John Brack was working in an insurance office in Melbourne, one of a crowd of daily commuters who trod the pavements to and from their offices. On one occasion in the city, he saw a Van Gogh reproduction in a shop window, and he was so captivated by it that he enrolled in night classes at the National Gallery School. He went on to paint Collins St, 5 p.m. (completed in 1955, and acquired by the NGV in 1956). It is a graphic example of his ability to observe and to communicate not just a scene, but its mood. It is a compelling image. It invites us to wonder about it. John Brack’s intention was to have the painting work on different levels of meaning while appearing deceptively simple dgdesignnetwork
Under the brown fog of the winter dawn
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many
I had not thought death had undone so many.
T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland, ‘The Burial of the Dead’, 1922
Brack first achieved prominence in the 1950s. He joined the Antipodeans Group, which protested against abstract expressionism, a genre whose notable artists were Jackson Pollock, among others.
The Bar (1954)
... The Bar is widely regarded as the companion piece to Collins St, 5p.m. The painting marks a time in Melbourne when hotels were forced by law to close early (first introduced during World War Two and continued until 1966 when 10 o’clock closing became the norm). The phrase ‘six o’clock swill’ was used to describe the behaviour of patrons who crowded around the bars to get a last drink before closing time. In this work, John Brack cleverly uses the device of a mirror behind the bar to make it possible for us to see both sides of the bar at the same time. We stand with the patrons facing the barmaid as she waits on her customers. She looks tired and seems resigned to deal with this unruly crowd and the urgency of their demands – ‘One more beer over here, love!’ dgdesignnetwork
"The Bar" struck me immediately with it's similarities to one of my favorite Manet paintings, "A Bar at the Folies Bergere". According to Wikipedia, John Brack's style was notable for his use of drab colors in his early works.
The New House
I find "The Fish House" disturbing. But I love "The New House". My favorite painting is this one. It reminds me of a Fiftie's ad for a men's clothier.
Men's Wear (1953)
Brack began using brighter colors in his later works.
The 1930s was the era of the Big Bands and Swing music. In the late 1960s it was ballroom dancing competitions which prompted John Brack to create a series of works. He was intrigued by the willingness of human beings to try and master absurd ritual movements to a strict dance tempo. What was this strange behaviour really about? Brack’s stunning use of fluorescent colour highlights the theatricality of these farcical events. In the painting, Latin American Grand Final (1969), Brack can stay behind the canvas no longer, and he paints himself standing at the edge of the dance floor continuing to observe.
Latin American Grand Final 1969
There is so much more to see. His style changed with the times but he remained unique. The National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne held a major retrospective of his work in June 2009. It was the first in twenty years. For more information and insight into his work, there's an excellent NGV Education Resource.
La Traviata 1981