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

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison

‘Deeply sorry’

The PM admits Commonwealth failings on aged care… sort of

Cover image of Body Count by Paddy Manning

The age of epidemics

Outbreaks like COVID-19 are caused by the same fundamental problems as climate change, but the solutions may also be connected

The Rupertvirus

News Corp’s COVID coverage has been a health risk of its own

Detail from the cover of ‘The Precipice’

What are the odds?: Toby Ord’s ‘The Precipice’

The Australian philosopher’s rational exploration of existential risk is bracing but ultimately hopeful


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

Image from ‘Hamilton’

America’s imperfect angels: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s ‘Hamilton’

Post Black Lives Matter, the hit musical already feels like a souvenir from a vanished pre-Trump America

Detail from the cover of ‘The Precipice’

What are the odds?: Toby Ord’s ‘The Precipice’

The Australian philosopher’s rational exploration of existential risk is bracing but ultimately hopeful

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Broadmeadows

Poetry from the author of ‘The Boat’

Still from ‘Contempt’

The death of cool: Michel Piccoli, 1925–2020

Re-watching the films of the most successful screen actor of the 20th century


More in Noted

Cover of ‘A Room Made of Leaves’

‘A Room Made of Leaves’ by Kate Grenville

The author of ‘The Secret River’ returns with a canny twist to fictionalise the life of Elizabeth Macarthur, wife of the Australian pioneering settler

Cover of ‘Antkind’

‘Antkind’ by Charlie Kaufman

The debut novel from the screenwriter and director of ‘Being John Malkovich’, ‘Synecdoche, New York’ and more is the zippiest postmodern, self-referential doorstop you’ll ever read

‘Minor Detail’ by Adania Shibli

‘Minor Detail’ by Adania Shibli (trans. Elisabeth Jaquette)

The Palestinian author’s haunting novel about an atrocity committed by Israeli soldiers in 1949

‘The Rain Heron’ by Robbie Arnott

An unsettling near-future tale of soldiers hunting a mythic bird by ‘the Tasmanian Wordsworth’


Read on

Cover image of Body Count by Paddy Manning

The age of epidemics

Outbreaks like COVID-19 are caused by the same fundamental problems as climate change, but the solutions may also be connected

The Rupertvirus

News Corp’s COVID coverage has been a health risk of its own

Image of Taylor Swift

Yours truly: Taylor Swift’s ‘folklore’

The singer-songwriter explores fictional selves on her tender-hearted eighth album

Blind study

When it comes to China’s influence, Australian universities have been burying their heads in the sand for too long


×
×