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The postwar period

Charles Blackman Barnes Auto, Brisbane 1952

Charles Blackman, Australia b.1928 | Barnes Auto, Brisbane 1952 | Oil on composition board | Purchased 2008 with funds derived from the gifts of Maria Therese Treweeke, Lady Trout, SH Ervin, Sali Herman, Sir James (Robert) McGregor, Robert Wilson, Captain Neil McEacharn, Naomi and Simon Bracegirdle and Oscar Edwards | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © Charles Blackman, 1952 /Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney 2013.

Yvonne Audette Allegro serata 1957

Yvonne Audette, Australia b.1930 | Allegro serata 1957 | Oil on board | Purchased 1994. Godfrey Rivers Trust | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © Queensland Art Gallery

Currently on display | Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Galleries | Queensland Art Gallery (QAG)

The works in this gallery explore a great divide in postwar cultural debate: the distinction between abstraction, in all its varieties, and figurative imagery. Australian artists keenly felt the influence of new abstract art and tried to come to terms with it, and gestural forms in abstract painting – forceful, emotional and immediate – dominated the late 1950s and early 1960s.

There were several sources for the new abstraction: Europe – with many leading Australian artists of the day being European immigrants; North America – the great postwar cultural force, especially the Abstract Expressionism of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock; and calligraphic traditions based on Japanese Zen Buddhism, which were often transmitted to Australia through American sources. However, Australian ceramic artists at the time learned directly from their Japanese colleagues.

Abstraction of any sort was constantly challenged. In 1959, critic Bernard Smith wrote The Antipodean Manifesto specifically to denounce abstract art and to support the importance of Australian figurative painters, such as Charles Blackman and Arthur Boyd. Nevertheless, only a few years later, Australian art had changed beyond recognition. The abstraction–figuration debate was soon overtaken by more complex issues and a wider range of cultural references.

Through travel, Australian artists and audiences came into regular contact with art from around the world, and, during the following decades, they engaged firsthand with ‘international’ forms of art as diverse as Pop art, Minimalism, colour field painting and conceptual art. Yet, cultural independence continued to be a major issue for Australian artists until the 1970s, and the question of how to develop independent artistic forms has proved a major preoccupation to the present day.

Collection Highlights

Charles Blackman Barnes Auto, Brisbane 1952

Barnes Auto Co was, for many years, the only location for buying petrol after hours in Brisbane. In 1914 Barnes Auto took over the McGhie Motor Co in Adelaide Street, and in 1926 it moved to the corner of Queen Street and North Quay. The hand-operated petrol bowsers we see here would have been installed then. Luton J White, the proprietor in 1952, took over the bankrupt business in 1931. He retained its iconic motto ‘We never sleep’, as Barnes Auto operated twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The new Brisbane City Council building, Brisbane Square, now occupies the site and Barnes Auto Co continues business in Rocklea.

For Kids
Painted many years before you were born this old-style car is filling up at a petrol station. When service stations like this were operating, a worker would come out and fill up the petrol tank, check the tyres and clean the windscreen while you sat comfortably in the car. They would even take the money for the petrol and bring back the change without the driver ever having to get out of the car! How is this different to when you go with your parents to a service station today? 

Yvonne Audette Allegro serata 1957

Australian advocates of abstract art including John Passmore and Godfrey Miller were influences on Audette. She travelled to the USA in 1952, and was attracted to the energy of the New York School, with its freedom from representation, but left for Europe in 1955, settling in Florence, Italy. Its ancient walls reflected a history of human presence which she absorbed into her painting. Layers of paint were built up and scraped back to reveal the history of the surface. Allegro serata (light happy evening) was inspired by Romanesque churches around Florence and Milan. 

Of Interest 

The Queensland Art Gallery houses a significant collection of Australian paintings, sculptures, decorative art objects, and works on paper. Find more information on these selected Collection highlights | Indigenous Australian Art | Queensland Heritage | Australian Art to 1975 | Contemporary Australian Art 

Search the Queensland Art Gallery's Collection online for works by Yvonne Audette, Ralph Balson, Charles Blackman, Grant Featherston, Donald Friend, Frank Hinder, Margel Hinder, Roger Kemp, Clement Meadmore, John Olsen, John Passmore, Tony Tuckson, Mary Webb and Fred Williams | Collection Search