European + American Art

Isolation + loss

A sense of loss and the isolation that accompanies it has been a prevalent theme in Australian art since colonisation. Émigrés who took the long sea voyage to Australia in the 19th century, be they single men, women or children, no doubt felt trepidation faced with the uncertainty of what lay ahead. For many settlers a common experience of post-settlement Australia has been one of loss of home, culture and identity.

During the 20th century the casualties of war brought momentous suffering and the grieving mother and the wounded soldier became archetypal symbols of war-time loss. In the aftermath of both World Wars, many people experienced significant displacement and upheaval. The German-born sculptor Inge King succinctly captures this sense of displacement and abandonment. Conversely, painters such as Sidney Nolan and Russell Drysdale found in the harsh, dry flatness of Australia’s interior a visual language that made a virtue out of isolation and stoic survival. The strange stillness that characterises their paintings is also evident in Jeffrey Smart’s haunting landscapes.

In the graphic arts, Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack represented his experience as an ‘enemy alien’ and subsequent internment during the Second World War, while Polish migrant Lidia Groblicka depicted her experience of post-war suburban Australia as one of conformity and safety. In both prints and paintings, for Bea Maddock and Peter Booth isolation is part of the experience of being an artist.