Friday, 20 January 2017

Australian Impressionists: Glocalisation in art?

Pic of Australian Outback landscape with sparse trees and greenery

Snow was forecast in London. It was a good day to appreciate the light of the Australian Impressionists Exhibition inside the warm National Gallery. The exhibition features the work of Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder and John Russell.

9 by 5 Impressionism
I had no prior knowledge of Australian Impressionists. I greatly appreciated the audio guide and the 15-minute introductory film at the start. The audio guide explained the 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition of 1889. The artists painted on cigar box lids that were 9 by 5 inches. This artist-led exhibition created controversy. Critics were not impressed. Australians turned out in numbers to see what all the uproar was about for themselves.

Uniquely Australian
Arthur Streeton was undoubtedly the greater talent. His talent was already evident in his early twenties, before any French Impressionist or Whistler influence could have been possible. His work portrays recognisable Australian scenes as well as the unrelenting light.
Streeton’s Golden Summer had visited London before. It was shown at the Royal Academy in 1891. It won a Mention Honorable at the Paris Salon of 1892.

Pic of Blue Mountains view with mist and blue sky
Three Sisters in Blue Mountains, Australia c. dinozzazer

Another huge Streeton landscape appeared alongside: Fire’s On (1891). It depicts the building of a railway tunnel in the Blue Mountains. The audio guide explained the story of the dead man being carried on a stretcher after a rock fall from an explosion. It captures how hazardous life was in Australia at the turn of the century.

The Australian Impressionists captured Australian life and energy as the country came of age. There was also a depiction of a heroic Melbourne fireman’s funeral. Tom Roberts’ The Break Away depicted the scene of a getaway by contrary sheep. The guide explained how the square frame captured the energy of the scene. No single focus conveys the chaos and spontaneity. They took inspiration from European artists and developed their own uniquely Australian approach to their country’s landscapes. Aborgines are noticeable by their complete absence.

The third section of the exhibition shows the work of John Russell. He went to France as a young man. He worked with and was influenced by many great artists of the time – especially Monet and Van Gogh. He even mentored Matisse. He used an unnatural colour palette and painted French landscapes in an expressionist style. Among his collection were paintings of Antibes and Brittany.

This begs the question as to whether Russell was an Australian artist at all. Should he be considered French? It’s an intriguing question in an age of even greater mobility and international influences.

Glocalisation in art?
Since my visit I recalled the glocalisation presentation at the University of Westminster's Translation and the Creative Industries Conference of October 2016. I suppose that Australian Impressionism is an example of glocalisation in art. The Australian artists were influenced by the French Impressionists, but then found their own uniquely Australian way to adapt it to their own landscapes and culture. Could Russell's work be an example of non-native translation in art? Somehow his work doesn't have the same expressive quality as the French or Australian artists painting their respective homelands.

The truly Australian paintings are the ones that stand out in this exhibition. They capture a new nation finding and expressing its unique identity.

Karen Andrews is a freelance French to English translator, transcreator, content writer and editor. She has a strong background in global marketing.

Email Karen for further information via in French, German or English.

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