Australia has been home to hundreds of artists that are internationally recognised for their talent, spirit, vigour, and passion for the Aussie landscape and lifestyle. In this article, we’ll look at 8 Australian artists whose works have gone on to influence those living both home and abroad.
1. Simryn Gill
Bio: Gill was born in Singapore in 1959 and now lives between Sydney and Port Dickson, Malaysia. After growing up in Malaysia, Gill was educated in both India and the United Kingdom. She works between the mediums of sculpture, photography, drawing, and writing. Gill has enjoyed numerous solo exhibitions at illustrious venues as the Tate Modern, Smithsonian Museum, and Venice, Singapore, and Istanbul Biennales.
Style: Gill is known as a mindful collector of objects, and for transforming the mundane into the poetic. From her large and varied collections she creates a new world, and in turn, changes the meaning of her materials.
Notable works: In Throwback (2007), Gill used natural materials such as fruit peels, termite mound soil, lalang grass, and areca nut casings to mimic the inner machinations of a Tata truck.
Roadkill (1999-2000) involved hundreds of pieces of motor vehicle flattened detritus to create a new form of traffic. She attached tiny wheels to trash like combs, cigarette packs, bottle tops, and tin cans.
Pearls (2000-) showcases a transformation of authoritative classic books into beads made from paper pulp.
2. Jeffrey Smart
Bio: Born in Adelaide in 1921, Smart attended the South Australian School of Arts and Crafts until 1941. He then travelled to and studied in Europe from 1948-1950, eventually moving to Italy in 1963 where he mostly resided in a small Tuscan village until his death in 2013. He has had over 50 solo exhibitions of his paintings.
Style: Smart is famous for the geometric composition of his modern landscapes; works that nod to the past while finding beauty in the industrialised new world. While the lack of nature and abundance of concrete and corrugated iron may appear to be gloomy, Smart has maintained that he found these urban environments and manmade constructions to be beautiful.
Notable work: The Cahill Expressway (1962) exemplifies Smart’s realist style. The curve of the road creates a gorgeous contrast in the composition, which is perhaps why this painting has become an Australian icon.
Playground at Mondragone (1998) depicts a red children’s play equipment structure, framed like a work of modern art. This work reflects Smart’s love of the geometric, and his ability to find beauty in manmade structures.
3. David Noonan
Bio: Born in Ballarat in 1969, Noonan has postgraduate degree in Painting at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne. He has been a permanent resident of England since 2001. Noonan has produced works in a range of media since the late 1980s, including painting, photography, film, printmaking, collage, and sculpture.
Style: Noonan is recognised for his gothic silhouettes and use of sepia prints. He creates collages and large scale silk-screened tableaux and films. He creates a sense of mystery and misanthropy with his images. His distinctive layering of images often features recurring animal and masked figure motifs, lending a dark and dreamlike quality to his work, a kind of window into your childhood subconscious mind.
Notable works: Untitled (2011) is a haunting five part installation made up of an ensemble of masked characters, eerie puppets, and banner wielding children. It demonstrates Noonan’s penchant for nostalgia and performance. Now housed at the National Gallery of Victoria, Untitled was first exhibited at Altermodern, the 2009 Tate Triennial at Tate Britain, London.
4. Stuart Ringholt
Bio: Born in Perth in 1971, Ringholt now lives and works in Melbourne. He makes video, absurdist sculpture, painted mirrors, collage, and has also written an autobiography entitled Hashish psychosis: What it’s like to be mentally ill and recover.
Style: Ringholt’s art often delves into personal themes such as our fear of embarrassment and the pressure to conform to social norms. His work casts art as a potential mode of catharsis or release from these self-imposed pressures. His performance art is often undertaken in layman style, in everyday locations like supermarkets and public transport, with his observers often unaware that he is performing.
Notable work: Club Purple (2014) is a nude daytime disco which requires viewers to strip off in order to enter. It draws attention to the museum as a space where bodies roam and is a unique experience for the audience.
Anger Workshops (2008) saw Ringholt placing himself and his participants in absurd situations and amateur self-help groups that he describes as ‘education through feeling’. Groups were encouraged to scream and yell while listening to house music, then consider love and compassion while listening to dulcet Mozart, before culminating in a group hug.
5. Mike Parr
Bio: Parr was born in 1945 in Sydney where he now resides. Parr has received many awards and accolades, and has also been described as the best Australian artist of his generation. He has exhibited extensively both at home and abroad in locations such as Brazil, Cuba, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and the United States. Parr was born with a misshapen arm which has since been a motif in many of his works.
Style: Mike Parr has realised over one thousand works within his Self Portrait series via a range of media including performance, installation, sculpture, drawing, drypoint etching, and photography. He is especially known as a captivating public speaker, for his prints, and for his memorable body modification performance artworks that induce discomfort in the audience.
Notable works: Close the Concentration Camps (2002) was a very powerful piece of performance art. In this work, Parr had his lips sewn together in solidarity with refugees in Australian detention centres.
Daydream Island (2013) saw Parr and his assistants performing body modifications that were relayed in all their gruesome detail on large screens in the space. The theme, again, was solidarity with asylum seekers.
6. Grace Cossington Smith
Bio: Grace Cossington Smith lived between 1892 and 1984. Born in Sydney’s Neutral Bay, Cossington Smith lived in her family home in Turramurra for most of her years while her career as a painter flourished. Examples of her work are currently held by every major gallery in Australia.
Style: Cossington Smith is most remembered for introducing Post-Impressionism or Modernism to Australia. Renowned for her vibrant use of colour and skill at capturing light, Cossington Smith often painted scenes of everyday and domestic life in Sydney. Her subject matter, however, was diverse and could depict anything from street scenes and bustling crowds to bush landscape and still life.
Notable work: The Sock Knitter was her first painting to be exhibited and was perhaps the first fully Post-Impressionist work painted in Australia.
The Bridge in the Curve (1926) is probably Cossington Smith’s most famous painting, depicting the Sydney Harbour Bridge as it neared completion.
7. Sidney Nolan
Bio: Sidney Nolan was born in Sydney in 1917, and until his death in 1992 he enjoyed an illustrious career as a printmaker and painter. Nolan was quite the traveller, traversing the Australian landscape in the 1940s before moving to London in 1951 and living in Greece, Paris, and the United States. His wanderlust also took him to Africa, Antarctica, and China.
Style: Nolan is best known for his distinctive, figurative manner of painting. Over his career he has evolved from painting outback landscapes and urban scenes to a brief foray into abstract. He soon concentrated on impressionist renderings of the outback and outlaws.
Notable work: The Ned Kelly series saw Nolan depicting the myth of this Australian outlaw with a blend of realism and fantasy. Nolan’s paintings depict main events of the story of Ned Kelly and his gang, from the shooting of police constables at Stringybark Creek, to the siege at Glenrowan, and ending with the trial at which Kelly was sentenced to be hanged. For Nolan these paintings represent his meditations on the universal themes of violence, injustice, love, and betrayal.
8. Ken Knight
Bio: Born in 1965, Ken Knight is heralded as one of Australia's greatest landscape painters. Knight undertook a BA at Sydney University before studying abroad in cities all over the world, from London, Paris, and Amsterdam to Kashmir, Cairo, and Istanbul.
Style: Knight is a plein aire painter, working with the impressionist style to create paintings that engage spontaneity and free brush movement. Knight’s work abstracts and highlights particular elements of the landscapes, capturing the spirit and essence of Australia’s natural environment while still allowing the viewer to form the complete image in their own mind.
Notable work: Knight’s works focused on iconic Australian landscapes and scenery. North Head from Sydney Harbour captures the still calmness of the harbour in the warm glow of the afternoon sun. The scene is one familiar to all Sydneysiders, and Knight captures the spirit of the country's unique landscapes through his use of colour, texture, and brush strokes. His works Barrenjoey and Above Palm Beach are another testimony to the Northern beaches of Sydney, coastal treasures that encapsulate the essence of the Australian landscape.