At Work and At Play
14 March - 8 April
Adrian Feint (1894-1971)
Harold Weaver Hawkins
John Richard Passmore
Leonard William French
Reginald "Rah" Fizelle
In 2021 Ellenbrook Arts presented an exhibition of Western Australian landscapes from the Levitt collection, featuring as a starting point, an early work by Portia Bennet, Roundabout and Swings. We are fortunate to be loaned this delightful artwork again, because this time it serves as the departure point from landscapes towards genre paintings and scenes of everyday life. The painting depicts children at play, and is one of a number of similar paintings on display, including Boys Fishing (1965) by Vytas Kapociunas, a beautifully composed depiction of a past time that is beloved to Western Australians and featuring interesting glimpses of newspaper print from the time it was made.
Contemporaries of Portia Bennet were Reginald “Rah” Fizelle and Harald Vike. Fizelle’s sketch of farm workers (Pea Pickers, 1955) and Vike’s study of this daughter learning to knit (Anna Knitting, c. 1940’s) sit nicely together and encapsulate the aesthetic of the era, but more importantly, the ethos of the artists, who were all interested in depicting the human condition and all made prolific works positioning them as important and collectable for a number of reasons. These artists have each left a legacy of immense value; they were all-rounders who painted landscapes, city-scapes, portraits, and scenes of everyday people and everyday life. Norwegian-born Vike produced countless studies of the homeless during the great depression, as well as studies of labourers and the working classes with a sense of dignity and ageless humanity.
Festivals, dancing, gathering and celebrating are as much a part of building a culture as cranes and railway lines and these are well represented and reflected in Western Australian artworks. Julie Dowling’s The Coolbaroo Club shows a time of segregation. The Coolbaroo Club was the only Aboriginal-run dance club at a time when Noongar people were subject to curfews, harassment from the law, and who lived under unofficial yet palpable apartheid laws. The club is remembered as a safe place for blacks and whites to mingle, and by all accounts, attracted black musicians from all over the world. Dowling’s work is well researched and well executed and provides an unflinching view of the difficulties faced by Noongar and Aboriginal people in Perth and Western Australia. Our difficult history is under constant scrutiny by artists and is an important reminder of our values and how they have changed, or how they must change. Horace Brodsky’s mysterious Masked Ball and Juniper’s Procession are alike in their presentation of dancing and mingling, each canvas recording a fleeting moment in something that was surely fabulous, leaving us with only a tantalising clue of a bygone era.
Elwyn Lynn's work is highly expressive with a rich surface, a metaphor for human suffering and endurance. Fragments of materials are embedded like archaeological discoveries into the surface of the work and allow traces of a life lived, preserved forever. The artworks collected here serve as artefacts of the things that artists have noticed, enjoyed, or were dismayed about, and will be well preserved for generations to come. Rather than a didactic, representational depiction of a scene, the viewer is encouraged to enter the layers of history and make discoveries of their own.
The act of sharing these artefacts and ensuring that they are cared for in collections are a generous contribution to society, and the Levitts are to be commended for not only their superb collection but their willingness to share it and make it available to the community of Ellenbrook, and Perth. I thank them for their time, patience and generosity, and I warmly welcome this selection of treasures to the Ellenbrook Gallery.