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image icon 'Subway escalator', 1953

'Subway escalator', 1953
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is a tempera painting by Frank Hinder (1906-92), dated 1953. Measuring 92.8 cm x 72.5 cm, this largely abstract work is dominated by a centrally placed lozenge-shaped unit consisting of a mass of variously sized and blue-coloured crystalline shapes. This central unit runs diagonally from the bottom right to the top left of the work. The crystalline shapes at the top of this central unit are smaller and more closely massed than are those at the middle and bottom. A series of overlapping, angled rectangles coloured in tints and shades of lavender blues and pinks, greeny-greys, off-whites and pinks surround the central unit. A fragmented and pink-coloured line runs across the work in a diagonal direction from the bottom right corner to the far left side.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a work by Frank Hinder, an artist known for abstract and semi-abstract paintings and drawings, which expressed his belief that art is a means of revealing the fundamental laws of design that underlie the world of appearances - Hinder studied at the East Sydney Technical School (1925-27), followed by travel to the USA to study at the Art Institute of Chicago (1927) and the New York School of Fine Art and the Master Institute of Roerich Museum (1927-29); across the period 1935-60, Hinder not only painted and exhibited as a Modernist artist, but also worked on theatre and costume designs, commercial art for book publishers, magazines and advertising agencies, textile designs, and lithographic printmaking
  • demonstrates skill in the use of tempera - Hinder liked to work in tempera because it produced dry, light colours and precise lines; he applied the tempera paint in thin transparent, overlapping layers so that the underlying structural drawing was retained in the overall final look of the image; the use of this medium in 'Subway escalator' has enabled him to capture a sense of the city as a dynamic, living organism where everything (particularly people and buildings) is in a state of endlessly altering relationships
  • demonstrates a belief in and application of the theory of 'dynamic symmetry', which Hinder became interested in when studying in New York - according to the theory, dynamic symmetry in nature is the orderly arrangement of members of an organism, while the term 'dynamic' is suggestive of life growth; the theory is demonstrated in 'Subway escalator' in the way that all the visual components overlap and are locked in by the outer framing units; Hinder noted at the time, 'I knew that here at last was something which gave, for me, a reason and a meaning to really what lay behind the statements and precepts that had previously meant nothing ... It was the relationship expressed which was important, and the relationship was expressed through design'
  • is based on a number of ideas about the nature of existence - the basis of the 'dynamic symmetry' theory was a world view proposed by the Greek philosopher Pythagoras; in the Pythagorean system everything in existence is connected and energised by a cosmic rhythm and the task of the philosopher and artist is to find the rhythm to which the whole of creation moves; one way of doing this is to recognise the relationship between everything that lies beneath the world of appearances; many forms of early 20th-century abstract art shared a common belief that there was a 'reality' underlying appearances
  • shows how Hinder was able to adapt and blend theories to suit his intentions as an artist by fusing dynamic symmetry-related ideas with others drawn from modern scientific subatomic theory - in the artist's collection of notes was a newspaper cutting that read, 'All elemental particles are made of the same stuff - namely energy ... energy is not only the force which keeps everything in motion it is ... the basic stuff of which the world is made'; the strong rhythmical movement of the central area of the painting and the flickering character created by the angular-shaped and overlapping units is an expression of the idea that all material forms are essentially energised particles
  • is one of the best known examples of an extended body of city and subway subject works made by the artist - Hinder began to explore figures in the city motifs while in New York in 1929, returning to this theme in 1935 and again in 1945, and culminating in 'Subway escalator', described as his most complex work in the series; the subway commuters, who are reduced to shorthand notations this work, can be readily identified in lithographic prints that Hinder made earlier in 1946-47; the source for this painting's subject is Wynyard station (opened in 1932) on Sydney's City Circle underground rail link
  • references significant developments in contemporary art in Sydney in the 1930s to 1950s, when Hinder and his sculptor wife Margel Hinder (1906-95) became members of a circle of influential artists on their return from the USA - these developments were largely an outcome of Grace Crowley's (1890-1979) travels to Europe (1926) to study Cubist art in France; Crowley began teaching in 1932 at the Modern Art Centre in Sydney and in the same year established, with Rah Fizelle (1891-1964), a teaching studio that became an important centre for the introduction of modernist ideas from Europe, and which focused on a constructive approach to painting and an insistence on the abstract elements of design.