John Brack is probably one of Australia’s most well know and highly regarded artists of our brief but rich art history. Brack was a Melbournian who both provoked and created controversy in his own right largely by opposing the Abstract Expressionism movement of the 1950’s, which was overwhelmingly popular in post war America. Instead, Brack chose to redefine the blue skies and yellow beaches of quintessential Australia by directly speaking to the viewer with a satire of the human condition in drab post war Australia.
The simplified and stark imagery of Brack’s work break down the barriers of the Australian suburban dream emphasising the anonymity of the city and the alienation felt by the individual despite being surrounded by the masses. Following in line like a mob of sheep, unaware of the surroundings, dumbfounded by their role and relationship to the universe, the nameless and faceless undefined in brown and black are herded toward the train station as they commence their commute home.
It is not everyday on the way to my 9-5 that I feel this way but perhaps it is the lingering winter that at times forces me to become one of the faceless sheep in John Brack’s Collins st, 5pm. It is not however all dull news. Times have changed since 1955 and the masses are somewhat different upon closer observation. Yes, the tired, sad, fifty-something year old man in his black suit is still mind-numbingly making his way across town, yet the fusion of bodies and faces around us are fascinating forcing us to engage in their games. ‘Why is this woman on this tram, where is she going?’, ‘What is he listening to?’, ‘Is that her son?’ and ‘I like her hat’ are all questions I want to know the answers to. Commuters tell captivating stories – whether it be what they are wearing, what they are reading, who they are talking to or what they are staring at – all, are intriguing, charming insights into the lives of those we share the daily commute with and that, is what I call realism.