1920 – 1999
More than any other Australian artist of his generation, Brack was a painter of modern life – its starkness, its shadows and its brooding self-reflection. His work is characterised by a kind of caustic realism and a strong sense of alienation, undercut with dry, sardonic humour. Brack was born in Melbourne in 1920, and his work first achieved prominence in the 1950s. For over forty years he was at the forefront of Australian art and produced some of our most iconic images.
Brack’s early conventional style evolved into one of simplified, almost stark, shapes and areas of deliberately drab colour, 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 modelled on Manet’s 1882 A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, and satirised the six o’clock swill, a social ritual arising from the early closing of Australian pubs. 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 stylised works featuring objects such as pencils in complex patterns. These were intended as allegories of contemporary life.
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.