March 2006

Arts & Letters

‘Voyage and Landfall: The Art of Jan Senbergs’ by Patrick McCaughey

By Justin Clemens

Coffee-table books about artists – especially when the artist is still alive – are an odd genre. Caught between biography and criticism, scholarship and accessibility, they too often try to resolve these tensions by recourse to adjective-laden hagiography. Patrick McCaughey, the high-profile former director of the National Gallery of Victoria, sidesteps such excess by leavening chronology with judicious detail.

Jan Senbergs arrived in Australia in 1950 as a ten-year-old Latvian refugee (for his part, McCaughey arrived in 1953 as a ten-year-old from Ireland). Senbergs’ father was shot in front of him one evening in 1944, and the family spent the next five years on the run, mainly in a succession of refugee camps in Germany. When they disembarked at Princes Pier in Port Melbourne, Senbergs didn’t speak a word of English. Given Australia’s resolute monolingualism, it couldn’t have been easy, and it’s tempting to trace the recurrent motifs in his work – homeless figures, machinery, unliveable seas, and environmental devastation – to these formative years.

There’s a lighter side to Senbergs as well. When the Queen and Prince Philip opened the High Court in Canberra in 1980, he found himself talking to the royal party. “My, that’s very big,” Her Majesty exclaimed, looking at Senbergs’ murals. “Do you do this often?” asked her consort. “Whenever I can,” the artist replied.

It is interesting to hear that some of Senbergs’ colleagues considered silk-screening a degraded medium, compared to etching and lithography. So too to hear of the abiding clamminess and claustrophobia of the Melbourne art scene. McCaughey identifies influences of all kinds: friends and colleagues, art and artists (surprisingly, Max Ernst isn’t mentioned). As his work develops, Senbergs shifts styles, often quite radically, but a vast, dark turbulence runs through it all.

The book is nicely designed and put together, a serious hardcover with high production values. The choice and deployment of images is superb.

Justin Clemens

Justin Clemens writes about contemporary Australian art and poetry. He teaches at the University of Melbourne.

Cover: March 2006

March 2006

From the front page

The NBN-ding story

New developments in the interminable debate over broadband in Australia

‘The weekend’ cover

‘The Weekend’ by Charlotte Wood

The Stella Prize–winner returns with a stylish character study of women surprised by age

Penthouse magazine cover Aug 1993

Tasteful sexuality

An oral history of the Warwick & Joanne Capper ‘Penthouse’ shoot

Rhetoric vs reality

The government has no agenda for addressing the worsening economy


In This Issue

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Comment

Television programming

Channel 7; Channel 9; Channel 10
Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

The joy of sport

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Malcolm Fraser & Galarrwuy Yunupingu


More in Arts & Letters

Still from Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’

No one’s laughing now: Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’

A gripping psychological study of psychosis offers a surprising change of pace in the superhero genre

‘Penny Wong: Passion and Principle’

‘Penny Wong: Passion and Principle’

Margaret Simons’ biography of one of the country’s most admired politicians

Patricia Cornelius

Patricia Cornelius: No going gently

‘Anthem’ marks the return of the Australian playwright’s working-class theatre

East Melbourne liturgy


More in Noted

‘The weekend’ cover

‘The Weekend’ by Charlotte Wood

The Stella Prize–winner returns with a stylish character study of women surprised by age

‘Act og Grace’ cover

‘Act of Grace’ by Anna Krien

The journalist’s propulsive debut novel tackles the aftermath of the Iraq War

‘Here Until August’

‘Here Until August’ by Josephine Rowe

The Australian author’s second short-story collection focuses on the precipice of change rather than its culmination

Image of ‘The Godmother’

‘The Godmother’ by Hannelore Cayre

A sardonic French bestseller about a godmother, in the organised crime sense of the word


Read on

Image from ‘Judy’

Clang, clang, clang: ‘Judy’

The Judy Garland biopic confuses humiliation for homage

Image of Joel Fitzgibbon and Anthony Albanese

Climate of blame

Labor runs the risk of putting expediency over principle

Afterwards, nothing is the same: Shirley Hazzard

On the splendour of the acclaimed author’s distinctly antipodean seeing

We will not be complete

The time for convenient denial of Australia’s brutal history is past


×
×