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John (Cecil John) Brack (1920-1999)
Brack's early conventional style evolved into one of simplified, almost stark, shapes and areas of deliberately drab color, often featuring large areas of brown. He made an initial mark in the 1950s with works on the contemporary Australian culture, such as the iconic Collins St., 5 pm (1955), a view of rush hour in post-war Melbourne. Set in a bleak palette of browns and greys, it was a comment on the conformity of everyday life, with all figures looking almost identical. A related painting The bar (1954) was modeled on Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, and satirized the Six o'clock swill, a social ritual arising from the early closing of Australian bars. Most of these early paintings and drawings were unmistakably satirical comments against the Australian Dream, either being set in the newly expanding post-war suburbia or taking the life of those who lived there as their subject matter.
In the 1970s Brack produced a long series of highly stylized works featuring objects such as pencils in complex patterns. These were intended as allegories of contemporary life.
Born on May 10, 1920 in South Melbourne, Australia, he died there on February 11, 1999.
He was Art Master at Melbourne Grammar School (1952–62). His art first achieved prominence in the 1950s. He also joined the Antipodeans Group in the 1950s which protested against abstract expressionism. He was appointed Head of National Gallery of Victoria Art School (1962–68), where he was an influence on many artists and the creation of the expanded school attached to the new gallery building.
Brack's works cover a wide range topics and themes. He often did a series of works on a particular theme over a number of years. His portraits, including self-portraits, and portraits of family, friends and commissions, and his paintings of nudes were produced throughout his career.
War time drawings (1943–45)
Scenes of urban life (Shops, street scenes etc.) (1952-
School, the playground (1959–60)
Shop Windows (1963–1977)
Ballroom Dancers (1969)
Postcards and implements (1976-
Pencils and pens (1981-
The catalogue of his work, and a year 2000 exhibition catalogue only cover the period to 1994.
Exhibitions and Auctions:
A major retrospective exhibition of Brack's work opened at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra on 24 August 2007, the last major exhibition for the gallery before its relocation. Brack's widow, Helen, attended the opening and commented that Brack was not concerned with the social standing of the sitter, but rather the artistic merit of their participation in the piece.
Brack's painting The bar sold for $3.2 million in April 2006,  , while in May 2007 his painting The Old Time sold for $3.36 million at auction in Sydney, a record for a painting by an Australian artist .
2009 John Brack: Retrospective Exhibition, The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
2006-2007 'The Nude in the Art of John Brack', MacClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park, Langwarrin
1999 'John Brack - Inside and Outside', works in the N.G.A. collection, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
1998 'John Brack and Fred Williams', Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
1987-88 'John Brack - A Retrospective', National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
1981 'Drawings, 1945-79', Monash University Gallery, Melbourne
1977 'Paintings and Drawings, 1945-77', Australian National University
1977 'Selected Paintings, 1947-77', Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology Gallery, Melbourne
Notes and references:
1. Sasha Grishin, The Art of John Brack, (1990) Oxford University Press.
2. Ted Gott, A Question Of Balance (2000), Hiede Museum of Modern Art
3. Portraits by John Brack, National Portrait Gallery, Old Parliament House
4. WIN TV news report, 24 August 2007
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