The work of Dušan Marek, one of a handful of European artists who brought the Prague School of Surrealism to Australia after fleeing Europe post World War Two, is on show at the University of Sydney's Art Gallery.
The exhibition is curated by the University’s Chair of Opera Production Stephen Mould, a Conservatorium of Music lecturer, ‘Czechophile’ and Marek enthusiast. Mould began acquiring his collection of Marek works in 2005 and three years later wrote The Birth of Love, a book about the art and lives of Marek and his brother Voitre, a noted sculptor and graphic artist.
Marek arrived in Australia in 1948 from Prague, an important European centre of Surrealism, to an art world unprepared for his “extreme style,” says Mould. “Australians were accustomed to decorative art with a few elements of modernism, but Marek was uncompromising.”
Disenchanted with his reception in Australia, Marek moved to New Guinea for several years before returning to Adelaide. While Australians grappled with his art, Marek came to terms with the local landscape. “A lot of émigré artists painted remembered images from former lives, but Marek developed his own language for portraying the Australian landscape through abstraction,” says Mould.
Marek’s paintings and films gradually built a following in Adelaide and Hobart, where he also lectured in fine arts, but he struggled to gain traction in Australia’s eastern states. A turning point came in 1993 when Marek was represented in the important exhibition Surrealism: revolution by night at the National Gallery of Australia. This exhibition encouraged further interest in previously marginalised artists. Sadly, Marek died three days before the exhibition opened. “Another step in recognition came when James Agapitos and Ray Wilson’s extensive Australian Surrealist collection was acquired by the NGA in 2009,” says Mould. Marek features prominently in the collection which includes works by Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd and Max Dupain.
While the Agapitos/Wilson collection focuses on 1925–1955, Mould has chosen to examine lesser-known works produced in the last 30 years of Marek’s life after he returned from New Guinea in 1959.
“The fallow period in New Guinea led to a new clarity of vision, and Marek began to paint large landscapes, often working with unusual materials, such as aluminium sheets and found objects. He also developed his earlier experiments in film, by creating a number of quirky, unique animations that form part of this exhibition.”
Mould has brought together selected paintings, drawings, films and ephemera from University of Sydney, private and his own collections to round out the story of this enigmatic artist.
Where: University Art Gallery, War Memorial Arch, Quadrangle, Science Road
When: 18 April – 22 July 2016
Opening Hours: Monday to Friday, 10am – 4.30pm and some weekends
Contact: 02 93516883 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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