Contemporary Australian Art

KENDAL MURRAY, Resurrection, 1998, Cast stainless steel, porcelain, nylon coated stainless steel cable, 90x180x180cm. SIR SYDNEY NOLAN, Kelly (detail), 1955, Oil, 81.5x100cm. JOHN OLSEN, Wattles and lonely man. FRED WILLIAMS, Boababs and Termite hills, Kimberleys, 1979, Gouche, 75x57cm. PIERS BATEMAN, Wild Dog Lakes, Oil, 120x150cm.

Australia’s indigenous heritage dates back over 40,000 years, being the world’s oldest surviving culture. Its Anglo-Celtic history is just over 200 years old, followed closely by a migration of people from just about every nation in the world, today predominantly from Asia. 28% of Australians now come from non-English speaking backgrounds, with over 200 languages spoken, making Australia one of the most culturally diverse nations in the world.
This richness is evident in our food, our wine and our arts and culture. The fusion of such diverse backgrounds and insights is creating exciting and innovative results, now shaping the identity of contemporary Australian art

From a nation of only 19 million people (0.3% of the world’s population) our artists
- like our sports people - have made a big impact around the world. Household names include, from the music scene Kylie Minogue, Midnight Oil, Crowded House, the Bee Gees, AC/DC, INXS, Yothu Yindi, Christine Anu, Cruel Sea, You Am I, silverchair, The Whitlams, Savage Garden, Regurgitator, Paul Kelly, Nick Cave, Natalie Imbruglia, Vanessa Amorosi, and Tina Turner; actors and directors such as Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Mel Gibson, Judy Davis, Greta Scacchi, Geoffrey Rush, Gillian Armstrong, Erroll Flynn, Peter Allen, Paul Hogan, Scott  Hicks,
Baz Luhrmann, Martin Brown  and Dean Semmler; films like Moulin Rouge, Priscilla:Queen of the Desert, Shine, Babe, The Piano, My Brilliant Career, Two Hands, Head On, Mad Max, Crocodile Dundee, Strictly Ballroom and Muriel’s Wedding; in literature, AB ‘Banjo’ Patterson (well known as the author of Australia’s alternative national anthem, “Waltzing Matilda”), Patrick White (Australia’s 1973 Nobel prize-winner for literature), Miles Franklin (one of Australia’s first feminist writers and the author of ‘My Brilliant Career’), Thomas Keneally (well-known for his Booker Prize-winning ‘Schindler’s Ark’, upon which the Spielberg film ‘Schindler’s List’ was based), Peter Carey (another Booker prize winner), David Maulof  (who has won just about every award there is to win in Australian literature), Tim Winton (regarded as one of the best Australian writers today and probably the most widely read) and David Williamson (playwright who has gained international success); Australian visual artists that may sound familiar include Sir Sydney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Fred Williams, John Olsen, Charles Blackman, Brett Whitely, Tracey Moffat, Howard Akley and Imants Tillers; Indigenous painters, including Emily Kame Kngwarray, George Milpurrurru, Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, Fiona Foley and Maggie Napangardi Watson are much in demand; Photographers that have met international acclaim include Max Dupain and his wife Olive Cotton, and more recently William Yang, Dennis del Favero and Olegas Truchaneas.

Trevor Jamieson in MAMU, Adeliade Festival 2002. Photo: Frances Andrijich. ARTHUR BOYD, Shoalhaven Trees, 1995, Oil on canvas, 180x424cm. BANGARRA DANCE THEATRE, The Dreaming, 2002. Photo: Gerald Jenkins. Actor Geoffery Rush as David in Shine. (Ronin Films).

Whilst our early European visual artists grappled with the unique Australian landscape – its openness, light, distance and colour – the subjects most embraced by Australian artists today include national identity, the environment, technology, globalisation, reconciliation and appropriation. Many artists are fundamentally driven by their conceptual concerns, and often utilize unconventional mediums to challenge both artist and audience alike.
Perhaps due to the vast distances and isolation of the continent, Australia has one of the highest take-up rates of new technology in the world. Australian artists today are at the forefront in exploring the potential of new media.
Art is often presented away from the traditional art environment, for example along the beach or projected on the Sydney opera house, opening up the boundaries of experimentation and engaging new audiences. The notion of ‘what art is?’ is often called into question.
Although for a long time there has been a stigma hanging over the psyche of Australian society that success could only be obtained from overseas recognition, which resulted in many of our artists leaving home shores, that no longer seems to apply and Australia is now nurturing it’s vibrant art-making talent, and still developing a prominent spot on the international scene.
In support of the wealth of talent there are a host of arts festivals that celebrate and cultivate Australian creative culture as well as supporting a fine agenda of international influences.
Australia is a country rich in fresh adventurous personalities. As a nation we are still
building our identity and as such, have no defined lines in which we believe one must follow. Anything could be possible, (certainly when you are surrounded by good humour, which the Australians are commended with!) and art is one field where this notion shines through.

'It is a brave new world for those who dare….'
Australia, a pioneering nation made up of people from over 140 other nations, is giving it a go!


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KEN UNSWORTH, Straw Dogs, 1985-93, Mixed media, 250x197x132cm. KEN DONE, Bridge and Opera House I, 1998, Oil, acrylis and enamel on board, 61x51cm.     OLIVE COTTON, Max after surfing, 1939, black and white photograph, 22.3x17cm. ANNE GRAHAM, The Macleay Women (detail), June 1997, Cellar, Elizabeth Bay House, Sydney. JAMES GLEESON, Parnassus Interchange, 1996, Oil on canvas, 132x177cm.