Date of Award

2014

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Communication and Arts

Faculty

Education and Arts

First Advisor

Dr D. Brady

Second Advisor

Dr R. Giblett

Third Advisor

Dr J. Schwarz

Abstract

This thesis explores the contribution to the cultural life of post-war Australia by migrant artists from north-eastern Europe. It researches the lives and work not only of displaced artists arriving in the mass exodus from Europe after the Second World War, but also second and third generation artists descended from original migrant families, and much later émigré artists.

Art histories written to date about the post-war period provide little coverage of the contributionto the art and culture of Australia by migrant artists from north-eastern Europe. The coverage in the literature written about the visual art produced by established Australian artists is far greater than that given to the migrant artists also exhibiting at the same time. Insofar as the ‘gap’ in the literature is concerned, this research reveals a number of factors which appear to have influenced the non-recognition of migrant art—such as, poor reception of abstract art in Australia post-war and the protection of established Australian artists. The impact of European abstract expressionism that migrants introduced in the 1950s had a lasting effect on Australian modern art, together with the innovation of their contemporary sculpture, which changed the urban landscape of Australian cities.

This research questions the possible long term repercussions emanating from colonial Anglocentric Australian government policies, which in turn leads to questions about the importance and location of cultural heritage, sense of identity, third space and cultural hybridity. With a focus on migrant artists from north-eastern Europe—the Baltic States and Poland—the research investigates how second and third generation artists locate their visual art in relation to their cultural environment and how they navigate between their cultural heritage and the cultural mosaic of an Australian context. The impact of war on artists from migrant families through the subjugated experience of those families is also addressed to ascertain any effect on the visual art currently being produced.

Interviews were conducted with ten artists of north-east European ancestry, using an ethnographic qualitative research methodology incorporating in-depth interviews together with close analysis of artwork during interview or subsequent contact in the artists’ studios and at exhibitions of their work.

Research revealed that, regarding a sense of belonging and identity, nine of the ten artists still retain a perception of living between cultures, which appears congruous with the importance of the retention of language and ‘home’ culture. Making art appears to strengthen their sense of living between cultures, and their creative praxis combines experiences passed down through the generations fused into their own Australian life-world, modified and shaped within a third space of meaning. The thesis argues that second and third generation Australian artists, whilst engaging with contemporary issues, make reference to cultural traditions interspersed with comment on contemporary conditions, resulting in a syncretic articulation which forms a third space of cultural transformation and unity.

The investigation into the impact of war, particularly World War II, revealed that only five participating artists directly manifest war themes in their visual art. However, the repercussions of that war and the Cold War, which lasted for many years after the Second World War, appear to have been subconsciously imprinted on the artwork of all three categories of artist, i.e. second and third generation and émigré artists.

The cultural aesthetics migrants introduced has had a long-lasting effect on Australian tastes generally and on art education in particular. This research underlines the particular contribution of migrant artists from north-east Europe, revealing the aesthetic value such cultural integration has produced. This research seeks to initiate dialogue and a growing understanding of the rich and complex history of art and culture which migration has stimulated in Australia since the 1950s.

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