Reality in flames : modern Australian art & the Second World War: Warwick Heywood, exhibition curator
Modernism and war art seem unlikely bedfellows, but this catalogue to an exhibition mounted by the Australian War Memorial in 2014 demonstrates the intensity a modernist vision can bring to the confronting and brutal images of conflict. Photographs can capture and document a moment in astonishing detail, and in the hands of a great photographer dig beyond the detail as well, but painting and other visual arts can make the commentary the first priority, leaving clinical documentation to others. Some powerful images in here, as well as some humorous ones such as Daphne Mayo’s lovely ceramic figurine of two drunk sailors keeping each other afloat.
Not surprisingly war has been a central theme for the creators of comic books since they first began, and this highly illustrated tome surveys how the industry has handled conflicts from the ancient world right through to contemporary disasters in the Middle East and elsewhere. Whilst many comic books take a basically good-versus-evil approach to storytelling in order to get as much bang for their buck as possible, some of the more sophisticated ones manage to use the drama and action of war to question the motives and effectiveness of such colossal human conflict.
As you would expect, American artists and designers threw every weapon in their arsenals into the propaganda campaign for the First World War and this beautifully printed volume shows how each and every arm of the U.S. war machine contributed to the overwhelming exhortation to fight the good fight, both at home and abroad. Interesting to see how many of these images were subsequently used by other allied nations in their own campaigns, with some of them I suspect eventually reappearing in the Second World War as well.
This splendid book brings together works by a host of artists represented in the collection of the Australian War memorial. The span covers the colonial era through to our own time and demonstrates beautifully why artists continue to go to war in order to document, celebrate, commemorate and ultimately question.
Don’t read Australian history, make it! An exhortation from our Picture Collection.