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image icon 'Painting', 1958

'Painting', 1958
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is a painting in synthetic polymers by Ralph Balson (1890-1964). Made in 1958 and measuring 137.0 cm x 137.0 cm, the painting consists of an all-over pattern of black, blue and white daubs of paint that are spaced more or less evenly across the entire image. A number of these daubs, particularly the white units, have dribbles at the bottom which suggest that the colour used was of a thin or runny consistency. Some patches of the natural colour of the composition board can be seen between the coloured daubs.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • This asset is a painting by Ralph Balson - Balson was a member of a group of artists who pioneered abstract and kinetic art in Sydney from the 1940s to the 1960s; this group also included Grace Crowley (1890-1979), Rah Fizelle (1891-1964), Frank Hinder (1906-92) and Margel Hinder (1906-95); Balson emigrated from England to Sydney in 1913 and in 1922 enrolled in evening art classes at the Julian Ashton Art School, where he met Crowley; in 1932 he participated in evening classes at the Modern Art Centre, Sydney (established by the leading Australian modernist artist Dorrit Black, 1891-1951); between 1949 and 1959 he taught abstract painting at the East Sydney Technical College; he retired in 1960 to paint full-time and to travel to England, France and the USA.
  • This asset is an excellent example of the style of Balson's later work - during Balson's career his work evolved though a series of styles; his first exhibition (1932) of small figure studies in subdued pastel colours reflected the influence of Cubism; his next series of works 'Constructive Paintings' (commenced 1941) were abstract paintings composed of geometric forms and motifs; the following 15 years saw Balson refine his style of abstraction by exploring colour relationships and qualities of colour transparency; from the late 1950s Balson began to use more intuitive forms of mark-making and image-building in which the paint was encouraged to slip and bleed across the surface and dry in heavy textural crusts; all these qualities are evident in 'Painting'.
  • This asset expresses the artist's belief in the power of abstraction - from the 1930s onwards Balson was inspired by the work and writings of the Dutch modernist artist Piet Mondrian (1872-1944); Mondrian believed there should be an ideal art that expressed or symbolised the universal laws of nature underlying visual appearances; a basic principle of these universal laws, as understood by Balson, was that everything in nature and human life is in a state of complex but balanced relationship; it was this view that led Balson to focus on the interrelationships between shapes and colours to represent this balance.
  • This asset references links between modern art and modern science - Piet Mondrian held that 'pure science and pure art' were mutual disciplines that were both seeking to discover the inherent laws of nature; the destruction of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by atomic bombs near the end of the Second World War had a powerful effect on Balson's scientific world view; he became focused on the social and philosophical implications of atomic physics and quantum theory and immersed himself in the theories and writings of Albert Einstein (1879-1955); this reading led him to believe that an art that expressed the laws of existence would need to interpret the universe as infinite force fields of pure energy and vibrating subatomic particles.