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The 1960s and 1970s: A growing pluralism

Tony Tuckson Pink lines (vertical) on red and purple 1970–73

Tony Tuckson, Australia 1921–73 | Pink lines (vertical) on red and purple 1970–73 | Synthetic polymer paint on composition board | Purchased 1998. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © Tony Tuckson, 1970-73 /Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney 2013

Brett Whiteley White dove feeling the universe 1985–92

Brett Whiteley, Australia 1939­–1992 | White dove feeling the universe 1985–92 | Oil on plywood | Gift of the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Foundation for the Arts through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 2012. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © Wendy Whiteley

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

The 1960s heralded a new decade of pluralism, accompanied by a seismic shift in focus from the artistic centres of Europe to the United States, and to New York in particular. Abstract Expressionism had been prominent for many years, and new developments included hard edge abstraction, which dominated the work included in ‘The Field’; the exhibition opened the new National Gallery of Victoria building, in Melbourne, in 1968, and later toured to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, in Sydney. ‘The Field’ is now recognised as one of the first and most important exhibitions of new abstraction in this country. It marked a turning point in Australian art, presenting the first significant challenge to prevailing figurative and gestural traditions.

Responding to the 1966 travelling exhibition ‘Two Decades of American Painting’, and to the ideas of American theorists, such as Lawrence Alloway and Clement Greenberg, ‘The Field’ artists sought to engage with contemporary definitions of Modernism, which rejected representation in favour of engaging with optical effects and the processes of perception, together with relations between colour and form.

Developments in abstract art were not the only new influences in these decades; by the 1970s, feminist and conceptual art had become influential. Both focused on forms of art expressed through ideas, an exploration of the dematerialisation of the art object and a critique of the commercial gallery system. As a way of exploring these concerns, performance and ephemeral installations were common. However, perhaps the most important development of this period was the Papunya painting movement, which brought Aboriginal art to national and, eventually, international recognition.

Collection Highlights

Tony Tuckson Pink lines (vertical) on red and purple 1970–73

Pink lines (vertical) on red and purple is the most sensual and exuberant of Tony Tuckson’s major paintings. It is a summary of his lifetime of studying artists, including Picasso and Klee, Pollock and Morris Louis; Tuckson was also the first champion of Melanesian and Indigenous Australian art in Australian art museums, and at his death was Deputy Director, Art Gallery of New South Wales. Like the jazz musicians he admired, Tuckson worked from a great knowledge of traditional art in order to depart from it. The sweeping lines here are a form of drawing on the canvas which reveals the presence of the painter, tracing his arm as he dragged his brush ‘up and down and across and back’, to quote Tuckson himself.

Brett Whiteley White dove feeling the universe 1985–92

The motifs of the bird and the female nude recur throughout Brett Whiteley’s diverse oeuvre. As curator Barry Pearce explained:

Brett Whiteley is Australia's most sublime painter of birds. They have appeared, often larger than life, in many of his most important paintings. To him, birds are the essential symbol of the song of creation.

Metaphorically an escape into what Whiteley saw as the freedom of the natural world, these works provoked curiosity in the artist, as well as a tremendous sense of release. As a child, Whiteley loved visiting Sydney’s Taronga Park Zoo, and he believed that birds symbolised all that was hopeful and poetic in the world. 

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 Peter Booth, Ian Burn, John Coburn, Lawrence Daws, Janet Dawson, Inge King, Nigel Lendon, John Peart, Guy Stuart, Tony Tuckson, Brett Whiteley and Normana Wight | Collection Search