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Linocuts of Black, Syme & Spowers
Year of production - 2006
Duration - 5min 0sec
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Linocuts of Black, Syme & Spowers is an episode of the series Hidden Treasures (15 × 5 mins) produced in 2006.
The National Gallery of Australia has more than 100,000 works in its collection—an extraordinary reservoir of creative vision and cultural history, from decorative arts to photography and sculpture.
Yet on a visit to the gallery, you’ll see only the tip of this iceberg. Carefully stored away are the things that can’t be placed on permanent display.
These unseen gems include works of exquisite fragility, from brilliant hand-painted fabrics to delicate works on paper. From Australia, the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Oceania, there are masks and carvings, lithographs and linocuts, set designs and stage costumes, sketchpads and handprinted books, marionettes and maquettes, teapots and textiles, and much, much more.
Now in this series of micro-docs, former director of the gallery Betty Churcher presents an insider’s guide to some of these 'hidden treasures’.
In the entertaining, accessible style for which she is renowned, Betty Churcher takes us behind the scenes, sharing with us her passion and insights. From her unique vantage point, she makes intriguing connections between a range of different objects and artists, linking them to the stories that surround them.
These are fascinating tales—about the works themselves, the people who created them and the challenge of preserving them—and a tantalising look at some of the ideas and influences that have shaped modern art across the globe.
A Film Australia National Interest Program in association with Early Works. Produced with the assistance of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.Full program credits
At the Grosvenor School of Art in London in the late 1920s, English artist Claude Flight taught printmaking with near-missionary zeal. By promoting cheap, mass-produced linocuts, made from ordinary household linoleum, he championed the democratisation of art. 'A work of art’, said Flight, 'should cost little more than a cinema ticket’.
He urged his students to seek and express the rhythms of early 20th century life—the machine age.
Among his pupils were three enterprising young Australian women: Dorrit Black, Eveline Syme and Ethel Spowers. Together they introduced Australia to a particular brand of modernism, based on the linocut and devoted to conveying the dynamics of movement through line and colour.
When Spowers and Syme returned to Melbourne, they became founding members of the Contemporary Art Group. However, Spowers was forced to give up her artistic career in the late 1930s due to illness. When she died of cancer in 1947, her close friend and artistic companion Syme stopped making prints.
All three were part of that inspiring circle of women who left Australia between the two world wars to become part of the collective experiment of European modernism. But the Second World War seemed to put an end to the utopian dream of modern art for the masses through affordable prints. And today a linocut by one of these leading lights would cost a good deal more than a cinema ticket!
Digital resources using the clip - Linocuts of Black, Syme & Spowers
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