Feature Article - Tasmanian artists - 100 years
Contributed by Sue Backhouse, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery
Tasmania has provided inspiration to many artists since European settlement. There has been a strong tradition of landscape painting due to the sublime beauty of the island’s diverse scenery. A unique sense of place and an acute awareness of the environment has evolved.
Among Tasmania’s most well-known artists are William Charles Piguenit (1836-1914), Jack Carington Smith (1908-72) and Bea Maddock (born 1934). Piguenit, who has been described as the ‘first Australian-born professional painter’, executed numerous traditional landscapes, often of remote areas, especially the Tasmanian Highlands. A unique collection of his work is in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. Carington Smith, born in Launceston, studied in Sydney then London and taught at the School of Art, Hobart for thirty years. He gained a national reputation particularly for his portraits, received many commissions, won numerous national prizes, and exhibited widely especially in Melbourne and Sydney. His influence as a teacher and painter of portraits reaches far beyond the State.
Bea Maddock’s studies took her from Hobart to London and Europe before she began teaching in Launceston. She then taught printmaking at the Victorian College of the Arts from 1970 and returned to Tasmania as Head of the School of Art, Launceston in 1983-84. She now works in studios in Launceston and Oatlands and has produced many complex prints and drawings. Her latest work features the depiction of the entire Tasmanian coastline.
Edith Holmes (1893-1973) and Dorothy Stoner (1904-92) are major artists who have worked continually throughout their careers developing an important legacy of work. Edith Holmes’ distinctive paintings reveal her love of light and atmosphere while Dorothy Stoner’s powerful canvases display a love of colour and shape.
Many artists made Tasmania their home. Haughton Forest worked prolifically, painting detailed seascapes and landscapes until his death at the age of 99 in 1925. David Chapman retired from Melbourne to Cressy, Tasmania in 1975 to paint large, colourful canvases. Artists coming to Tasmania for shorter periods included John Eldershaw, who excelled in watercolour landscapes, in the 1920s and 1930s, and Edwin Tanner, who was originally an engineer and became a full-time painter while residing in Tasmania in the 1950s.
After establishing reputations as major artists overseas and interstate, Ewa Pachucka, Stephen Walker and Keith Looby have made Tasmania their home as have Tom Samek, Ron Brookes and Stephen Lees.
Numerous Tasmanian-born artists remain living and working in the State with only short periods away, usually for study or travel. Louisa Swan, Mabel Hookey and Blanche Murphy were significant figurative and landscape painters who worked in the first half of this century. George Davis, best known for his colourful landscapes and perceptive portraits, has worked for over 40 years in Tasmania.
C. L. (Lily) Allport, printmaker and painter, and Florence Rodway, a miniaturist and pastellist, chose to return to Tasmania after living and working for over 20 years in London and Sydney, respectively. Contemporary painters and printmakers, Denise Campbell, Betsy Gamble, David Keeling, Helen Wright, Barbie Kjar and Jeff Burgess, also a sculptor, have all chosen to work in Tasmania. Philip Wolfhagen and Stephen Lees are younger artists who paint inspired, textural landscapes drawn from their Tasmanian experiences.
Carington Smith, Robert Campbell and John Eldershaw were instrumental in generating a strong tradition of watercolour landscape painting within Tasmania. Joseph Connor, Harry Kelly and Roy Cox preferred this medium for their work from the 1940s to 1960s. Adept watercolourists working today include Max Angus, Patricia Giles and Christine Hiller.
A number of Tasmanian artists established reputations both interstate and overseas. Loudon Sainthill, born in Hobart in 1918, had considerable success in England as a theatre designer. Oliffe Richmond studied in Hobart then Sydney before travelling to England in 1949 to study with Henry Moore. He settled in England and taught sculpture at the Chelsea Art School. Francis McComas, born in Fingal, Tasmania moved to America where he had considerable standing as a member of the ‘Monterey School’. The painter Jean Bellette and Gerald Lewers, a sculptor, became well known artists in Sydney, and painters Peter Clarke, Tony Woods and Kevin Lincoln all reside and work in Victoria.
There are many teachers who have had a major influence on art and artists in the State. Lucien Dechaineux, Belgian-born, came to Tasmania from Sydney in 1895 and initially settled in Launceston where he taught for 12 years before he was appointed Head of the Art Department and Principal of the Hobart Technical College for 32 years. Mildred Lovett taught in Sydney and then in Hobart during the 1920s and 1930s and had an important impact on her students, particularly as a result of her own studies in Paris.
Robert Campbell, taught at the Launceston Technical College and influenced a great many artists in the north of the State, including Geoff Tyson and Alan McIntyre. Campbell left Tasmania in 1947 to become Curator of Art at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, followed by directorships of the Queensland and South Australian galleries.
Important teachers of the 1960s and 1970s were: Rod Ewins, who set up the printmaking department at the School of Art; Geoff Parr, who established the first photographic course to be offered as a subject in an art school in Australia; Udo Sellbach, a master draughtsman and printmaker; and painters Anton Holzner and Dusan Marek who brought with them wider influences of abstraction and surrealism from Europe. Sculptors Ken Unsworth, Peter Taylor and David Hamilton have also exerted an important influence.
Significant teachers of the 1980s and 1990s include: Paul Zika and Tim Payne, who established a papermaking mill at the School of Art in Hobart; sculptor, Bob Jenyns; American photographer, David Stephenson; Terry O’Malley, painter, sculptor and performance artist; and Ray Arnold a printmaker with a national reputation.
Tasmanian inspired works are numerous as are the number of artists who have been associated with the State. Work has emerged which has strong regional appeal and which also contributes to a wider Australian genre.