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discovering dobell : art critic christopher heathcote’s new publication

A large coffee table book, beautifully presented and lavishly illustrated, this is an intriguing book for art lovers brought to us by the excellent Wakefield Press.

Christopher Heathcote is one of Australia’s foremost art critics, has published a number of books on Australian painters, and  is a regular contributor to the current affairs journal Quadrant.

Linked in with the current exhibition at TarraWarra Museum of Art we gain a fascinating insight into the life of Dobell. The book is in effect divided into four sections with a Forward by TarraWarra Museum of Art director, Victoria Lynn.

In her forward Lynn says that the exhibition and this book places Dobell in context, from his working class roots and ‘ between the two camps of the Academy of Arts and the more avante- garde Society of Artists ‘.

The book and exhibition also examine the links and friendships between Dobell and his contemporaries such as Russell Drysdale, Donald Friend, Margaret Preston, Justin O’Brien.

Dobell maintained close friendships with many of these artists and in the 1940s Dobell controversially became a Trustee of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, an influential advocate for rising artists, again indicating how important he was to the mid-century Sydney art scene.

Heathcote,  in his curatorial essay, has written a tremendous examination of Dobell’s life and work. We see how Dobell was concerned with ordinary people, painting subjects ranging from ordinary men and women seen on the streets of Depression-struck London to Sydney’s Kings Cross.

Much mention is made of his 1943 Archibald prize win for his portrait of Joshua Smith and the huge controversy this created , and how it badly affected Dobell afterwards.

Heathcote also looks at Dobell’s work practices, how he developed ideas from sketches to paintings.

DISCOVERING DOBELL stresses Dobell’s trademark style – elongation and lashings of paint – and prominently features the artist’s controversial and recognisable portraits of Joshua Smith, Dame Mary Gilmore and Helena Rubinstein, together with other major themes of his extensive output, including paintings of grinning Ockers, ( Billy Boy ) struggling young mothers, ( Cockney Mother) cheeky street children at play( Cockney Kid With Hoop) and haughty women intent on keeping-up-appearances. (Mrs South Kensington).

Dobell became quite a society portrait painter at one point . We can see his very strong solid use of shape and form. Some striking landscapes are also included of London in the 1930’s. .There is also his portrait of The Cypriot – quite startling for its time – and his portrait of The Strapper.

The book’s overview is completed with analysis of Dobell’s experimental drawings and paintings from New Guinea, ( for  example Highland Natives and The Thatchers) as well as his little-known ventures into abstract form once he moved to Wangi Wangi, some paintings just completed with ball point pens.

This book reminds us of the major creative achievements of this great Australian painter and brings these achievements alive for the younger generation of art lovers.

Details
Category Arts, Architecture and Design
Format Jacketed hardback
Size 290 x 260 mm
ISBN 9781743054802
Extent 112 pages

Price: AU$49.95 including GST.

 

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