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Explore the dark side of our wide brown land

Would there be fewer malevolent parrots in the work of Albert Tucker if one hadn’t bitten him? In the Heide Museum of Modern Art’s new exhibition Albert Tucker: Explorers and Intruders, our feathered friends are less Rosella sauce bottle and more Hitchcockian nightmare.

“They’re usually shown as creatures of aggression, tearing into the flesh of the men who, Tucker seems to suggest, are unwelcome impostors on their land,” explains Sue Cramer, who curated this selection of the famed Australian modernist’s paintings from the late 1950s and the 1960s. “Once, after having been bitten nastily by a parrot he had nursed back to health, Tucker remarked, ‘We’re in its territory. The Australian bush is dangerous, and if you intrude you have got to expect trouble sometimes.’”

Tucker’s take on the bush is stunning in its use of colour, while the figures we find within it – male and mainly anonymous – are “at once tragic and heroic – gaunt, exhausted, yet vulnerable,” Cramer says. Some of the visages are angular and abstract in the style of Tucker’s iconic ‘Antipodean Head’, others are diamond-shaped or inspired by the form of an Etruscan axe. “Tucker was extraordinary in the way he merged his figures with the landscape around them, the cracks and fissures of the dry earth appearing as deep crevices in their faces, as if they are overwhelmed by the power of their environment.”

Melbourne-born Tucker (1914-1999) is well known for his vice-laden depictions of the city in the aftermath of the Second World War, but by the late 1940s he’d headed overseas. The history and mythology around European art inspired Tucker to undertake “a kind of Australian myth-making” and drew him towards outsiders making their way in the bush. Tucker began exploring these ideas while he was living in Europe “partly out of a sense of nostalgia and homesickness, but also perhaps because he felt better able to handle this loaded subject from a distance,” Cramer says. “The subject matter was Australian but the themes were universal, to do with survival, struggle, loneliness and making meaning from one’s environment.”

Two standouts in the exhibition for Cramer are the Gippsland Intruder paintings from 1965. Each features an almost see-through single figure, the veins coursing through the body like rivers and tributaries through the land. “The paintings hang side by side so that the two figures stare at each other across the gallery walls, as if seeking comfort, or at least company.”

'Intruder Resting' 1965-1966
synthetic polymer on composition board
131 x 161.5cm
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
On loan from Barbara Tucker
© Barbara Tucker

Want to own a limited edition Beastman print?

By Natalie Book   |  

Albert Tucker: Explorers and Intruders details

7 Templestowe Rd, Bulleen 3105

Telephone 03 9850 1500

Date 17 Aug 2013-10 Mar 2014

Heide Museum of Modern Art map

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