Archives for posts with tag: The Philosophy of Art



“I  heard [Picasso] complain about how all the people who came to see him and saw him give new life to old bits of tulle and cardboard, string and corrugated metal, crumpled rags from the garbage can thought they were doing him a favour to bring him remnants of splendid fabric to make pictures out of. He didn’t want them, he wanted the true refuse of human life something poor, dirty, and contemptible.”

Louis Aragon (Spies, 2000:13)


Robert Hughes writes that the tradition of modern sculpture, with its welded and assembled sheets of metal and its open and constructed form, was derived from a small guitar that Picasso made in 1912 (Hughes, ). Picasso radically expanded the techniques and materials used in sculpture during the twentieth century. Besides using bronze, plaster and wood, he employed found objects and the ‘fetishism that arises from the inexplicable and the overlooked’ (Spies, 2000:13). His penchant for violating convention set in motion the combination of found objects, an ironic approach to functional value, and a presentation of discarded pieces of consumer culture which have become inherent in artistic practice today. This essay will concentrate on describing the particular use of materials in Picasso’s work and how they have determined its outcome by assessing particular sculptures done throughout his lifetime.

In 1912 Georges Braque (1882-1963), Picasso’s partner in the initial development of Cubism, was continually trying to adapt craft techniques to Cubism. Contrasting with the nineteenth century attitude which saw craftsmanship as secondary, an appreciation of craftsmanship was common to both Braque and Picasso, allowing them to manipulate and experiment with many types of materials (Spies, 2000: 17). Along with cut-out templates, Braque used sand and plaster mixed with paint to create a relief surface. By the time he had shown these new works to Picasso they had become three-dimensional. He had been assembling sculptural objects together, using paper and cardboard, and then painting and drawing over them. Braque conducted these experiments as a way of assessing their ability for creating illusion (Walther, 1986:207). Picasso then began making paper collages of his own and, when exploring the illusion of spatial values, began making three-dimensional work. These guitars were crudely made out of cardboard and left uncoloured.


By 1914 Picasso had used the cut-out elements of the cardboard Guitar to make one out of sheet metal. A constructive and additive procedure was the profoundly innovative characteristic of these sculptures, from a Western perspective of art history, along with the use of such foreign materials as sheet metal, wire and stovepipe pieces. These constructivist works were based upon new principles in which the material played the primary role. With his sheet metal Guitar 1914, Picasso had also broken with tradition by using ‘found objects’, in this case a stove pipe to represent the hole of the guitar. The introduction of these new materials meant that he was able to show the negative void in sculptural form, thereby increasing the means by which sculpture could express its three-dimensionality (Markus, The flat sheets of metal acted as planes as well as lines, thus defining the form and also containing the negative space. Wire and nails represented the strings while pins held the whole piece together. Finally, to unify the work, Picasso painted the whole piece a muted brown in accordance with the principles of Analytical Cubism.



Guitar, 1914, sheet metal and wire, Museum of Modern Art


After concentrating on the three-dimensional possibilities of applied set and costume design, Picasso returned to sculpture around 1928. Motivated by the desire to create a monument for the poet Guillame Apollinaire, he turned to Apollinaire’s own description for a monument of the dead poet Croniamantal in La Poete Assasine, ‘a statue of nothing, of a void…’ (Spies, 2000:117). Through this description Picasso wanted to realise the opposite of the nineteenth century idea of ‘the monument’ and, like his work with the Guitar, describe the reversal of volume. After viewing the sculpture of Jacques Lipchitz, which was also exploring the negative void, Picasso’s sketchbooks began to feature points and lines based upon star constellations. He gave four of these drawings to his friend Julio Gonzalez (1876-1942), who was a sculptor and proficient metal worker. Picasso envisaged scaffolding; ‘these sculptures of poles and antennae executed on a large scale, in pylons of iron or some other material’ (Spies, 2000:118).

Gonzalez executed four maquettes in reduced scale which were fashioned out of thin iron wire. The resulting sculptures successfully conveyed the immaterial spatial quality that Picasso had visualized, playing abstract form against representational, spatial against graphic with line and space both being juxtaposed. The iron rods represent material volume, yet at the same time have the illusion of two-dimensionality. They can be interpreted as outlining the figure and also outlining the air which is invisible, therefore achieving a ‘monument of nothingness’ (Walther, 1986:342). These maquettes were rejected by the monument’s selection committee as being too radical and were not realised in large-scale versions until 1962. The materiality that Picasso had conceived and Gonzalez executed became particularly important for future sculptors, such as Alexander Calder, who concentrated on welded metal structures.



 Project for a Monument to Guillame Apollinaire, 1962, painted steel

Museum of Modern Art


Picasso continued his exploration of metal in his sketchbooks and also through his association with Gonzalez, whose welding techniques enabled Picasso to radicalize his forms and compositions. Welding, soldering and smelting allowed him to use iron wire, scrap metal and flat metal planes to create more ambitious and complex works. Already being aware of some extraordinary ethnological artworks made of metal in the Trocadero Museum in Paris, Picasso produced six large pieces of work with Gonzalez in the period between 1929 and 1931. The most complex of these was Woman in a Garden (1929), a piece which Gonzalez did not execute from sketches but which Picasso improvised from elements, such as a table body, to create the sculpture. This work is an assemblage rather than a construction and is also rather contradictory to the craft of metalwork itself through its use of unreconstructed scrap. It is a dynamic and rhythmic structure of line and gesture described by arts writer Werner Hoffmann as: ‘The piecing together of formal elements… rods and planes collide with injurious sharpness…’ (Spies, 2000:137). As with the iron wire works, Picasso’s concern was with transparency, with the lines in the work being paramount.

It was reported by the critic Andre Salmon that Picasso was highly amused by this form of work and enjoyed rummaging in the scrap heap for iron to perfect it.  Also, the Surrealist Andre Breton noted Picasso’s freedom in handling the material: ‘He even sought out the perishable and ephemeral for its own sake…’ (Spies, 2000:138). The assembled elements of the sculpture were then intentionally joined in a coarse and visible way, avoiding technical perfection, which lends it a quality of post-modernist self-reflexivity. Afterward Picasso painted the whole piece white to give it the appearance of uniformity. As the work had been designed for outside, a later bronze version was cast and welded by Picasso, which the critic Grace Glueck describes as being a ‘wild and compelling’ open-form assemblage that suggests both a woman and a garden fused in a poetic vision (

In the mid ‘30s Picasso began a more extensive use of mechanically textured surfaces. Form played a secondary role to clear textures, such as the flowing parallel folds of corrugated cardboard representing the fluting of early Greek sculptures. Woman With Leaves (1934) contrasts these corrugated cardboard pleats in the lower body with vegetal veining of elm leaves pressed into fresh plaster. The surface of the sculpture consists almost entirely of adopted textures. Picasso considered this work to be one of his great achievements (Withers, 1975:72). Subsequently, the combinations of objects and materials began to play an ever more important role with the free interpretation of sculptural form and quotation from reality allowing a simple integration of real elements.

A good example of this is Head of a Bull (1942) which is the most famous of Picasso’s reproduced sculptural works. By achieving the simplest mode of sculptural expression, the coupling together of two unaltered bicycle parts, Picasso intended that the elements of the work should not be isolated by the consciousness. He understood that the process of assembling these ‘ready made’ works could be undone to become the functional objects again; that the functional value never completely disappears. Roland Penrose wrote that Picasso’s bull, though initially humorous, through its combination of material can also create a metamorphosis which can challenge our sense of reality (Green, 1985:73). A new viewer experiences Picasso’s synthetic illumination in reverse after realising that the sculpture is constructed of two visually and functionally separated bicycle parts. The material unity is completed through the process of bronzing.


However, Picasso says that the danger of the unifying nature of the bronze material is that the viewer may only see the ‘bull’s head and no longer the saddle and the handlebars rendering the work uninteresting’ (Green, 1985:71). The work needs the optical illusion of the metaphorical tension created between the two objects and the aesthetic image they create. Picasso anticipated a further stage in which the sculpture could be reduced again to its separated state and be reused in its original function (Green, 1985:72). By taking something that is rubbish and using it in an unexpected way is the visual renewal which Picasso made to twentieth century art. This approach could be associated with the period of war and its ‘characteristic peddling and use of scraps’ (Spies, 2001:216). Rubbish, garbage and scrap gained increasing importance in his sculptural work.


Bull’s Head 1943
Handlebars and seat of a bicycle

Picasso’s sculptural activity was often confined to sketch models. These were an experimental approach to materials to try and force expression from formless and contentless elements. They were works influenced by ethnographical pieces such as masks from the Belgian Congo in which found objects are arranged together. Also ancient Gallo-Roman coins were another influence in his clay-moulded reliefs. This may have been due to the Surrealist interest in the metaphorical importance of objects. Whereas Marcel Duchamp was also interested in tiny works such as these and saving them in a suitcase (Spies, 2000:220), Picasso was interested in these reduced models because of their ‘intimacy and concealment’ (Spies, 2000:221). His paper pieces were not cut but torn; sometimes mouths or eyes were burned in with a cigarette. The paper was sometimes folded to create a spatial effect. Pebbles, bones, pieces of wood and tiny tin caps became birds, fish, foxes, goats, vultures, masks, children’s faces, death heads, cigars and nit combs embellished with a pair of lovemaking lice. They anticipated the sheet metal sculptures that would come in the 1950s and 1960s.

Picasso also produced sculptures whose appearance was mostly dependent upon materials that had a particular form or statement. His work was always grounded in the representational, and in pieces such as Woman with Baby Carriage 1950 he used a wide variety of different pieces of metal, such as bits from a real pram, but also cake pans and a stove plate, modelled in clay, which he then stuck together not leaving any doubt as to the fragmentary nature of the elements which had formed the sculpture. In his She –Goat 1950 he went about the assemblage in a different manner, only looking for materials that he would need to form the image that he envisaged. The sculpture consists of materials such as a wicker basket, palm leaves, bits of metal tube, flower pots and pieces of china, but these are no longer recognizable having been stuck together underneath a layer of plaster. Goat Skull and Bottle 1954 was also created from a number of found materials such as bicycle handlebars and large bolts for the eyes. The goat’s head is covered in a layer of corrugated cardboard that gives a textural direction of the hair; nails are used for the tufts in the ears and also for the rays of light emanating from the candle nestled in the bottle. Again the sculpture was unified by casting in bronze but he also painted it in shades of grey that matched the sombre palette of his post-war years. As in his other sculptures, the found elements never quite give up their original identities (


Goat Skull and Bottle. 1951, Painted Bronze

Museum of ModernArt, N.Y.

Picasso also used wood from crates, sofa feet, broomsticks, painting stretchers and sometimes an easel. Therefore these constructions and assemblages were largely determined by the materials used. In 1912 he had begun composing guitars using the same visual values in wood, cardboard and sheet metal. Further on, in the stage sculptures proposed for the ballet Parade1917, his sketches depict the use of boards and wooden elements. The Bathers 1956 with their clearly demarcated rectangular bodies are further investigations into these designs. Lines were carved and burned-in to convey a formal appearance along with a red and black paint transparently applied by rubbing. On the child’s face small wooden pegs are fixed to the disc of the head. The sculptures of this period were made of thin planes referencing painting in their near flatness.

Although Picasso was mainly recognized as a painter in his lifetime, perhaps it was because his sculptures were generally confined to his own collection that gave him the audacity to consider the ephemeral and unusual as material. Although the influence of primitivism and the inspiration of artists from such places Central Africa and Oceania must also attest to his ready acceptance of found materials. Moreover, he obviously did not feel the constraints of having to consider the durability of many of his sculptures, yet when he did he ironically resorted to the tradition of bronze casting. It was the bronzing of these ephemeral works which can unfortunately relegate some of them to quaintness, through the loss of the surprise of their materiality. This was an unfortunate result as artists such as Marcel Duchamp never felt the inclination to unify their sculptures through this process and the use of such materials were philosophically important to the work. However, it is generally accepted that Picasso’s sculptures are ‘among the most radical, thought-changing artworks of the modern period’ (Dickerman,


Dickerman, L.,  Retrieved: August 10, 2008

Glueck, G., 1982, Art View: Picasso Revolutionized Sculpture Too, August 7, 2008

Glueck, G., Art: Gonzalez Survey, A Sculptor’s Reshaping, Retrieved: August 7, 2008

Green, J., Picasso’s Visual Metaphors, Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 19, No.4 (Winter, 1985) pp.61-76, University of Illinois Press

Hughes, R., Retrieved: July 14, 2008

Markus, R. Picasso’s Guitar 1912: The transition from Analytical to Synthetic Cubism, Retrieved: August 5 2008

McCully, M.,  Picasso Painter/Sculptor. London, Tate Gallery, The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 136, No. 1094 (May, 1994), pp. 326-328

Morisset, V.,  Retrieved: August 15, 2008

Spies, W, 2000, Picasso: The Sculptures, Hatje Cantz Publishers, Stuttgart

Walther, I, 1986, Pablo Picasso, Benedkt Taschen Verlag, Bonn

Withers, J., The Artistic Collaboration of Pablo Picasso and Julio Gonzalez, Art Journal Vol.35 No. 2 (Winter 1975-76) pp. 107-114, College Art Association

Withers, J., Review: Werner Spies: Sculpture By Picasso, Art Journal Vol. 35 No.1 (Autumn 1975) pp.70-72, College Art Association





Judith Ryan wrote about the artist Rover Thomas in her 1993 catalogue essay for the National Gallery of Victoria exhibition of Aboriginal art: ‘As an artist Thomas is not locked inside language patterns or ritual structures of the Western Desert; he looks beyond them to another world of reality and enjoys the freedom to depict this expansively…’ (McCulloch S., 1999). Acquiring his own individual style, Thomas’ paintings are characteristic for their highly textured ochre surface, minimal imagery and sense of space. A restricted palette, in which black usually predominates, leaves an aesthetic impression of a highly resolved abstract painting. As an overview of Rover Thomas’ life, this essay will attempt to understand how he developed so fully as an artist at such a late stage of his life, and why his work had such an individual character.

During the early decades of the twentieth century the cattle industry was established in the Kimberley region of far north Western Australia. The Indigenous people of the area lost all their land as European settlers took it for their cattle stations. These stations then used the Indigenous people as forced labour. Along with Europeans staking claim to these people’s lands, they expected them to acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes that would make life easier for the settlers. However, it also suited the pastoralists to have a compliant workforce so the Aboriginal people were also left much to their own devices, allowing them to sustain the values and traditions of their tribal lives (Carrigan B., 2003). Rover Thomas Joolana was born into this new and relatively dependent relationship in an Aboriginal camp around 1926 near Well 33 on the Canning Stock Route. His birth was not officially recorded, but it is known that both his fathers (his actual father and the man who raised him) were Wangkajungka, his mother Kukaja. These are two adjacent language groups in the Kimberley. Thomas never knew first hand the world his parents had known before white settlement, but still was able to understand the rules of Dreaming which continued to shape the local Indigenous world.

When he was about ten his mother died and he was moved to Billiluna Station, where he worked as a jackaroo and was initiated into traditional law by a man from Sturt Creek. Another Kimberley artist, Queenie McKenzie, told of how she sewed Thomas’ scalp back on after it was trodden on by a horse (McCulloch S.,1999). He then worked with a fencing contractor in Wyndham and later the Northern Territory. He eventually returned to Western Australia where he worked as a stockman on the Bow River Station. Later, he worked at the Texas Downs Station for nine years and then Old Lissadell and Mabel Downs stations. He then returned to Texas Downs where he married his second wife. By the 1960s changes in popular views forced the government to introduce new pastoral laws which mandated equal pay for both Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal workers. Unfortunately this saw the majority of Aboriginal workers dismissed as they were no longer a source of cheap labour. They gravitated towards the towns of Fitzroy Crossing and Kununurra. In the eastern Kimberley a camp called Warmun was established by the Gija people at Turkey Creek, whose traditional lands surround Halls Creek to the south.

Back in 1974 when Thomas moved to Warmun, it was a small government reserve and a difficult place to live. It had few facilities and makeshift housing was all that was available. Only a few buildings had electricity and there was no running water. The social conditions were difficult as tensions increased with the expanding and diversified population. Turkey Creek was more of a refugee camp rather than a community; many felt excluded and longed to return to their country, and most were apprehensive of the encroachment of mineral and energy exploration. Fortunately, the prevailing government was interested in Aboriginal conditions and investment in community infrastructure began. A school was to be established, a community store constructed, houses built, a bore sunk, pipes and taps installed, electricity provided and pensions and welfare benefits became available, allowing basic needs to be met. It was to this paradoxical but burgeoning community that Rover Thomas moved to and it became the background for him ‘finding’ the Kurirr Kurirr, a ceremonial narrative dance cycle (Carrigan B., 2003).

Thomas’ story about how he became an artist is entwined with an event in 1974, in which one of his elderly female relatives was badly injured and died after a car accident near Turkey Creek. Her spirit visited him soon afterward and related to him Dreamtime stories and songs. Thomas shared these dreams with his community, who evolved a ceremonial song and dance cycle from them called Kurirr Kurirr (Genocchio B., 2008). The Kurirr Kurirr is an embodiment of the spirit of the old woman who died while being flown to Perth for medical treatment. The narrative sequence of the cycle follows her spirit back across her country; along the way encountering Dreamtime beings, as well as events from the historical past such as a particular massacre. The Rainbow Serpent predominates in Kurirr Kurirr, being associated with the swollen creek in which the accident happened, Cyclone Tracy, and the tidal whirlpool at Derby over which the old woman dies. The Rainbow serpent also underlies this cycle of work in a profound way by linking the region’s diverse language groups and giving them chains of communication and cooperation (Carrigan B., 2003).

As the Warmun community developed this song/dance cycle they travelled and performed it over much of the north of Western Australia, even into the Northern Territory. The most important part of the ceremony was the painted boards, left over from community building work and carried by the dancers. The first of these boards was painted by Thomas’ uncle Paddy Jaminji from the stories that Rover related to him. Jaminji was recognised as the artist of the community as he had been known for his wooden carvings and ochre patterning on boomerangs (Genocchio B., 2008). Mary Macha, a government art consultant was incredibly excited when she saw these boards for the first time: ‘Paddy showed it to me…More paintings were added and, of course they suffered in their travels… But they were powerful!’ (McCulloch S., 1999, p.118). Even though Jaminji was initially not interested in selling them to her, he eventually sold her two sets on condition that she brought him more boards.

However, Thomas perhaps became frustrated at his lack of recognition as ‘Dreamer’ of these paintings and strode up to Mary Macha a few years later and said: ‘Rover Thomas, I want to paint’ (Thomas R., 1994, p.49). At first, Thomas and Jaminji worked together on a level piece of ground then, when houses were built, they were able to paint on the concrete floor. An example of their first collaboration is The Spirits Jimpi and Marginta (1983), depicting the two devils that accompany the spirit of the old woman (McCulloch S., 1999). It was painted in thickly applied ochre pigments mixed with gum collected from the surrounding trees. Later the two artists began to paint on their own and, although these paintings by Thomas and Jaminji could appear to be a recently invented style through which it is hard to see continuity with earlier styles, the Australian National Gallery curator Wally Caruana states that the style is deeply rooted in the traditional pictorial conventions of the east Kimberley rock art. It is also associated with the patterns of body painting traditions (Thomas R., 1994).


Paddy Jaminji and Rover Thomas

The spirits Jimpi and Manginta 1983

natural pigments on plywood

60.0 x 120.0 cm

National Gallery ofAustralia

Jaminji’s paintings show a careful and precise stippling of white clay dots delineating the different coloured forms in the work, whereas Thomas’ own work of 1983, such as The Dog and the Emu at Lake Gregory shows more impatience with the same method. Jaminji is also careful to compose the imagery of his paintings with a certain balanced symmetry while Thomas’ composition is quite haphazard. Most of  Thomas’ work of 1983 is also rough in execution, according to Mary Macha due to his use of bush gums that were mixed with his pigments. It resulted in a rough, loose textured finish that made it difficult for the overpainting of white dots to adhere to the ground. It was when he was introduced to the water-soluble gum of the Kurrajong tree that the artists of Kulumburu used, that he was able to achieve stability and the matt surface that he desired (Rover Thomas Joolama n.p.).


The Dog and the Emu at Lake Gregory 1983

natural pigments on hardboard

46.0 x 61.5 cm

National Gallery ofAustralia

One of the most striking works of that year is Wungurr is the name for that Snake (1983). Two snakes, one charcoal black, the other yellow ochre are entwined forming a powerfully graphic presence on the orange-coloured raw plywood base. Again, Thomas has executed the white dot outlines quickly, with the outer dots of the black snake allowing the yellow snake to become part of the interior space. It is the embodiment of the Rainbow Serpent and depicts the junction at Turkey Creek where the woman had her accident (Thomas R., 1994). An extension to the story of this painting is Ngamarrin (The Snake near Turkey Creek) (1984). It depicts the Snake crawling over the hills, the darker areas representing burnt grass and shadows. Where the serpent shows its head, depicted in lighter ochre with a white dot for the eye, is the place where the car accident happened (Thomas R., 1994). There are three separate colours used in this painting, a large area of dark red-brown which is applied in differing layers of transparency, a lighter more orange ochre that provides a background, and a large central single area of charcoal black that represents the landscape. The painting also shows a more steadfast and persistent effort in its depiction of area, and is a precursor to the later more austere compositions.


Ngamarrin (the Snake near Turkey Creek) 1984

natural pigments on plywood

90.0 x 180.0 cm

National Gallery ofAustralia

A good example of a more simplified composition is Bedford Downs Massacre (1985) which shows a complete break from figurative imagery to illustrate a narrative of an incident that occurred between European and Aboriginal peoples around 1924 in the East Kimberley. The massacre at Bedford Downs relates to an incident in which, after the collection dray loads of wood by the Aboriginal workers, the manager of the station distributes poisoned rations of food to them. Along with the manager’s neighbours, they shoot the victims while they are incapacitated and writhing in agony. They then use the wood to cremate the dead (Thomas R., 1994). The pale ochre that is used in the three key spaces of the painting conveys a sinister image of ash on dark red ground and, along with its title, the starkness of the narrative.

Again, in 1986, he simplifies both his composition and palette further in Lake Argyle. Only two colours are used, charcoal and red ochre, to effectively show a topographical view of the dam on the Ord River. Again the pigments are laid on quickly, with the gum to add translucency, to create four simplified shapes outlined in white clay stippling. Thomas describes it as a place where a star fell during the Dreamtime. ‘The water, lake, go right down… my drawing, water go in there, he go all the way water. Long time ago, but still a hole there’ (Thomas R., 1994, p.58). This still relates to the Kurirr Kurirr cycle in which water, as a manifestation of the Rainbow Serpent, plays a role of transportation.


Lake Argyle 1986

natural pigments on canvas

90.0 x 180.0 cm

National Gallery ofAustralia

Much of  Thomas’ work also relates to places that he has travelled through, and portrays both the intimacy and enjoyment he had through his connection with the landscape. The unusual painting Roads meeting (1987) shows a crossroads where a bitumen road and a dirt track meet. The two outstretched hands are supposed to represent the stop signs on the road. It is unusual because of its graphic, diagonally geometric representation and lack of organic shapes. The hands are similar to hand stencils found in rock art traditions, and seem to be reaching out to each other. It could be interpreted as a conceptual portrayal of the traditional, represented by the dirt track, and the modern, represented by the bitumen road, meeting and reaching out to each other. Thomas was quite individualistic within his community. He lived on his own outside the settlement and spent much of his time working inPerth at his main benefactor, Mary Macha’s, house (Carrigan B., 2008).


Roads meeting 1987

natural pigments on canvas

90.0 x 180.0 cm

National Gallery ofAustralia

Thomas returned to the theme of the Bedford Downs massacre in 1988 with the painting Kananganja (Mount King). Here, the large main shape is representative of Mount King, and the long, thin areas are where it casts its shadow. The small circle in the lower left corner represents the place where the bodies of the poison victims were burnt. Verse 15 of the Kurirr Kurirr Cycle describes how Thomas dreamed the event:

The shade from the hill comes over and talks in language: ‘munga lurrlungu’,

The Devil Devil and woman look around and see the shadow [spirits] of people killed long ago by Kartiya [white people].

They see where the bodies had been burned.

They make a song about those people.

                                                                                                Rover Thomas (Thomas, 1994, p. 26)

The painting, like the first Bedford Downs Massacre of 1985, is sombre in its choice of colours. There is little contrast between the tones of orange-yellow ochres chosen, except for the dark red circle where the bodies were burned.


Kananganja (Mount King) 1988

natural pigments on canvas

90.0 x 180.0 cm

 National Gallery ofAustralia

Grugrugi: Owl 1989 is a return to full figurative representation and uses a more detailed motif of a previous painting in 1984, Ngarrangkani. The white ochre owls are depicted in a vertically reverse form of each other, yet are similar in most other respects. They are Dreamtime spirits, maybe the spirit of the woman, and bear a resemblance to the Wandjina figures through their large eyes and simplified noses and mouths. The eyes of the upright owl show red amongst the browns and pale yellow ochres of the rest of the painting.

Another massacre depicted as part of the Killing Times series is the Ruby Plains killing in which the owner and manager of the Ruby Plains Station come across some Aboriginal men butchering a stolen bullock. They shoot and decapitate the men and place their heads in a hollow tree. The men’s friends are alerted to where they are by the crows that gather over the dead bodies (Thomas R., 1994). Ruby Plains killing 2 (1990) shows the heads of the murdered people in the hollow of the tree trunk, as well as depicting the place where the murders happened through the use of a topographical plane. It shows the Ruby Plains Station as a circle in the upper part of the painting and the road to Balgo which extends in two ways from it. The longer black lines represent the creek which feeds into the OrdRiver then Lake Argyle (Thomas R., 1994). The depiction of such murders by Thomas seems to suggest that his intention was to create an historical record of the events which had never been officially recorded, other than by Aboriginal oral tradition.


Ruby Plains killing 2 1990

natural pigments on canvas

90.0 x 110.0

National Gallery ofAustralia

In 1983 Thomas painted a very simple composition called The Rainbow Serpent destroyed Darwin which illustrated the movement of Cyclone Tracy. In Cyclone Tracy (1991) he painted a more elaborate version of these events. The black line rising from the bottom of the painting shows the starting place of the wind, then as the line turns and widens into a large space it shows the full force of the cyclone. The yellow ochre lines running into this large black area show more winds feeding the cyclone and the red ochre portrays the wind filled with red dust (Thomas R., 1994).

Looking across from Kununurra they see that Darwin has been flattened by the cyclone.

The Rainbow Serpent destroyed Darwin.

                                                                                                Verse 31 Kurirr Kurirr Cycle

                                                                                            Rover Thomas (Thomas, 1994, p.27)

The painting is significant in being able to successfully convey an effective impression of the crescendo of the cyclone. The black area swallows the yellow ochres like a large mouth. The blackness swallows everything in its path.


Cyclone Tracy 1991

natural pigments on canvas

168.0 x 183.0 cm

National Gallery ofAustralia

 In 1991 Thomas went on to paint his birthplace on the Canning Stock Route and his father’s burial place, these became the subjects in which he was interested in the latter part of his life (Carrigan B., 2003:78). He painted the things that were important to him and were directly related to his own experiences Mary Macha relates that he was a traveller and did not constrict himself to painting ‘his own country’, saying in an interview: “Once, when he was painting down here, someone asked him, ‘is that your country?’ And he just laughed and said, ‘no I steal anybody’s country’” (Carrigan B., 2003, p.63).  After being the first Aboriginal artist, along with Trevor Nicholls, to represent Australia  at the Venice Biennale of 1990, Thomas received a major retrospective at the National Gallery of Australia in 1994. However, his health was failing and after 1995 he was only able to paint sporadically. Illness and failing eyesight were taking their toll when he died in 1998. His unique vision and style reflect his affinity and understanding of the landscape and events. Also, without being a part of any major international art movement, the power and the simplicity of his work cannot properly place his work in the realm of contemporary abstractionism, but reveals it as a visualization of transcendental thought.


Ackerman, K. 1998, Rover Thomas- tribute Retrieved: 4.1.09

Artists Biography- Rover Thomas Joolama c. 1926-1998   Retrieved: 4.1.09      Retrieved: 4.1.09

Carrigan, B. Ed. 2003, Rover Thomas- I want to paint, Heytesbury Pty Ltd T/ as the Holmes a Court Gallery,Perth

Gennochio, B. 2008, Dollar Dreaming- Inside the Aboriginal Art World, Hardie Grant Books,Melbourne

Mc Culloch, S., 1999, Contemporary Aboriginal Art: A guide to the rebirth of an ancient culture, Allen and Unwin,Sydney

Morphy, H, 1998.  Aboriginal Art, Phaidon Press,London     Retrieved: 4.1.09

Thomas, R. 1994, Roads Cross- The Paintings of Rover Thomas, The National Gallery ofAustralia,Canberra

Red Stone Dancer c.1913 by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 1891-1915

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, “Red Stone Dancer” 1913


Expressionism began as an early twentieth century movement whose influences lay in the work of the Post-Impressionists. The Expressionists sought to break bonds with the post-Impressionist tradition of reproducing nature and radicalise the use of colour and contour in their art. It reflected a new attitude to colour, tone, form and line through heightened colour contrasts and simplified representational form. Expressionists tries to  reconcile human instinct with visual practice and found inspiration in the art of cultures other than Europe.

The Industrial Revolution was reflected in a parallel artistic revolution and, as the twentieth century sped this to its full capacity, artists looked for new ways of expressing this new world and their reactions to it. Industrialisation leaped from one invention to the next and some of these artists found this ‘leap’ forward as a threat to humanity and the individual, as  industrialists saw the common man as a mere cog in the wheels of manufacturing progress. These artists reacted with a search for new ways of expression from looking at art from non-industrialised societies on which they could found a new movement.

It was around 1905-1906 that the inspirational tool for the artists’ revolt came in the form of African sculptures which were exhibited at the ethnological museums at this time. They saw in the sculptures the aesthetic value of ‘primitivism’, whereas before that time people had not considered such sculptures works of art. The ‘primitive’ sculptures role was as a magic token in ritual ceremonies. However, for the Expressionist artist the most important factor was that the carvings were not concerned with the replication of visual appearance but a way of expressing an idea about it.

In the late nineteenth century Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), a Post-Impressionist, expounded a theory of the ‘noble savage’, for which he wanted to return to ‘the source’, (Sheldon 1996:55). His were some of the first European paintings to use colour for purely decorative or emotional purposes. The landscapes and backgrounds were flat, the colours giving the paintings substance and body rather than the tone giving dimension. Gauguin loved Brittany in France because of its wildness and primitiveness. In 1888 he wrote: “When my wooden shoes ring on the granite, I hear the muffled, dull and powerful tone that I try to achieve with my painting” (Bowness, 1972:57). To break with naturalism and find a more abstract art, Gauguin believed that a non-industrialised environment was necessary, and it was this conviction that led him to Tahiti. While living in Tahiti, Gauguin captured the raw, emotive and visceral imagery of Oceanic art. To add to his medium of painting Gauguin carved wood and also modelled in clay. One of his ceramic pieces, Oviri, the Savage (1884-85), expresses Gauguin’s aesthetic philosophy as clearly as his paintings do. With his use of pure colour and simplified non-naturalistic style he became one of the most influential European painters to have such a powerful and early effect on the development of Expressionism.


Paul Gauguin, “Osiri the Savage, (1894) clay

One early twentieth century movement to gather together ideas and philosophies for expression were the Fauves (Wild Beasts), as they were called, whose members were led by Henri Matisse (1868-1954). This young group of artists exhibited in Paris in 1905. Their paintings were simplified in design yet garish and full of bright colours. Their style forced Post-Impressionist means and adapted them to a different purpose. As Henri Matisse wrote: “When the means of expression have become so refined, so attenuated that their power to express wears thin, it is necessary to return to the essential principles which made human language. They are, after all, the principles which ‘go back to the source’, which relive, which give us life” (FLAM, 1973:74). Matisse was obviously influenced by Gauguin’s return to what he saw as ‘the source’, in his life in Tahiti, an attempt to recapture humanity’s place in a new world of machines.


Henri Matisse, “La Dance” (1909)

German Expressionism was different to that of the French Fauves. While it was also the colour work of Gauguin and another Post-Impressionist Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) that influenced them, they were also influenced by the intense religious fervour of Gothic and medievalism. The crowded and stylised Gothic paintings and sculptures found on medieval European cathedrals seemed to offer the means of achieving the more expressive art to which the Germans aspired. Emil Nolde was the eldest of the artists in the German Expressionist group ‘Die Brucke’ (The Bridge), which he joined in 1906. Like Gauguin, who also had tried to depict biblical scenes in a contemporary form, Nolde focused on religious imagery. His work had colours that clashed, with distorted forms and raw, heavy brush strokes. The subjects were peasants and fishermen with rough, hallucinated faces trying to imbue a sense of the primal and universal, expressing primitive human passions as archaic masks. Nolde found that the non-realistic, rhythmical and decorative approach in the art of non-industrialised societies confirmed his efforts to approach his work with pure instinct.

nolde 1910

Emil Nolde, “Christ with the Children” (1910)

In 1908 the methods of the German Expressionists changed, following the lead of the Fauves (Hoffman, 1965:53) . The motifs were set out in broad areas of decorative colour and are overlaid with the influences of primitive art and medieval woodcuts, in which the elements of colour and decoration were foremost. However, what raises the ornamental arrangement above the level of decoration is the archaic idiom. These characteristics can be witnessed in the paintings of another member of ‘Die Brucke’, Ernest Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938). Kirchner’s Bathers at Moritzberg (1909-1926) was a statement of the new confidence of the artist as communicator of thoughts and feelings not just visual appearances (Sheldon, 1996:49).

Bathers at Moritzburg 1909/26 by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner 1880-1938

Ernest Kirchner, “Bathers at Moritzberg” (1909-1926)

Each of the movements of the early twentieth century such as the Expressionists, the Fauves and the Cubists, assimilated primitivism into their own art. These painters having viewed the works, especially sculptures, of Africa and Oceania brought to sculpture through their own small scale works an embrace of cultures other than those of Europe. Matisse spent much of his early career on sculptures as a three-dimensional extension of his paintings. One of his works, La Serpentine 1909, shows rhythmic minimal lines and a distinct influence of African tribal art. Matisse did not copy these African sculptures but rather let it subtly influence his work through a conceptual approach that gave the artist freedom to improvise and invent. Alan Bowness (1972 p.180) states this ability to simplify was one of Matisse’s great lessons, given equally to sculptors and to painters.

Matisse serpentine

Henri Matisse, “La Serpentine” 1909

Modern sculpture between 1905 and 1920 was a history of Western assimilation from non-European sources. Archaic Greek and Egyptian, Assyrian and Oriental, Cycladic and Paleolithic, African and Polynesian, Pre-Columbian and Amerindian, were the influences which extended the boundaries of the West’s traditional perception of sculpture. Having been exposed to all these influences, Expressionist sculptors believed that they could dispense with the tradition of developing formal drawings of the model, the marquet  and prior measurements, to then finally proceeding with their material. The practice of ‘direct carving’ favoured by some of the early twentieth century sculptors was regarded as part of the process of intuition which went into producing an African mask or totemic carving (Sheldon, 1996:55) . The artists may have thought that by direct carving they might enhance the power of expression.  However, the belief that ‘primitive’ works were a pure form of expression was a misconception as ‘tribal art’ usually follows strict codes and traditions. However, the influence of primitivism was a rejection of conventional European pictorial traditions and played an important part in the development of expressionism.

Constantin Brancusi (1876-1956) was one of the first of these sculptors to reduce to his work to its most simple form. In  Brancusi’s piece The Kiss 1907 the elemental power is expressed by the bulk of the stone from which the forms are only sketchily emerging.  His direct carving technique, simplification of form and primitivism influenced early twentieth sculptors such as Jacob Epstein (1880-1959) and Henri Gaudier Bzreska (1891-1915). This latter young artist, born in France, worked as a draughtsman. He was competent in his drawing but yearned to do sculpture. It was Jacob Epstein, while Gaudier was living in London, who gave Gaudier the inspiration to work directly in stone.

Brancusi kiss

Constantine Brancusi, “The Kiss” 1907

Direct carving involved confidence in the approach to the medium but more importantly the ability or gift to perceive the subject from concept to three-dimensional form. Gaudier, who in personality was a revolutionary despising the bourgeoise, was searching for new ways to express his perception in stone. According to the artist and critic Roger Fry (1866-1934), Gaudier was “seeking to create a classical art, one of pure expressiveness.” (Silber, 1996:60). The only art classes Gaudier attended was a twice-weekly drawing class in the autumn of 1912. However, he was already an accomplished draughtsman and not the least reserved about individuality in his approach. His style of drawing had a firm architectural line with a speed of execution resembling graphic reportage. The drawings he did at this time were important for giving him naturalistic roots imbued with expressive energy.

A Dog c.1913 by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 1891-1915

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, “A Dog” 1913

Influenced by the theorist Henri Bergson, Gaudier wrote a letter to his companion Sophie Bzreska: “…in this emotion I see three divisions, linear emotion, produced by the rhythm of outlines and strokes, sculptural emotions, rendered by the balance of masses, such as are revealed by light and shade, and lastly, pictorial emotion, produced by various coloured pigments (Silber, 1996:81).” Bergson’s effect upon Gaudier, as in that of the Fauves and the German Expessionists, was to express intuitive and primal behaviour, a return to man’s animal rather than rational nature(Silber, 1996:81).

Gaudier met Epstein in June 1912. At this time Epstein was the leading avant-garde sculptor working in London and was carving a monumental sculpture of a winged angel for the Tomb of Oscar Wilde (1911-1912). Epstein had a powerful influence on Gaudier and it was around the time of their meeting that Gaudier began to carve directly into the stone. Gaudier was so moved by his meeting with Epstein that he wrote to his friend Dr. Uhlmeyar: “ The whole work is treated- strongly filled with insuperable movement and delicate feeling, in the expression and the medium…… It’s all carved direct in the stone without models” (Silber, Evelyn, 1996).


Jacob Epstein, “Tomb of Oscar Wilde” 1912

Until late 1913 Gaudier’s carvings were mainly linked between his life and animal drawings and the shape and scale of the available stone. His small-scale densely worked sculptures were closely related to Far-Eastern art forms. Gaudier’s interests align him closely with Gauguin,who was influenced by Javanese Buddhist sculpture as well as European and Oceanic sources. Relief carving also offered a straightforward way into the uncompromising technique of direct carving. Gaudier’s earliest carvings, the tiny white marble Head of a Man (1912) and Religious Head (1914) transpose a type of facial study in the style of his drawings two or three years previously.

Gaudier head of man

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, “Head of a Man” 1912

In 1913 Gaudier met Ezra Pound, the American poet and entrepreneur. In that year he drew many portraits of Pound and a strong relationship began to develop. In 1914 Pound commissioned Gaudier to sculpt a portrait of Pound’s head. At one metre high it was to be much larger than any previous works. According to Epstein, Pound asked Gaudier to make it ‘virile’. Horace Brodsky (1885-1969), an Australian born painter and critic, who regarded the head and all Gaudier’s more abstract work as ‘unrepresentative’, recalled later, “….its purpose and beginnings were entirely pornographic. Gaudier informed me…. that it was to be ‘phallus’”(Silber, 1996:130).  Pound recalled Gaudier muttering repeatedly,“You understand it will not look like you, it…will..not..look…like you. It will be the expression of various emotions which I get from your character” (Silber, 1996:130).

Gaudier ezra

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, “Head of Ezra Pound” 1914

In a debate between Gaudier and Pound responding to Richard Aldington’s book The Egoist Gaudier made this statement:

  “The modern sculptor is a man who works with instinct as his inspiring force. His work is emotional. The shape of a leg, or the curve of an eyebrow,etc.,etc., have to him no significance whatsoever; light voluptuous modelling is to him insipid- what he feels he does so intensely and his work is nothing more nor less than the abstraction of this intense feeling… This sculpture… is continuing the tradition of the barbaric peoples of the earth (for whom we have sympathy and admiration.” (Silber, 1996:131).

The primitivism of Ezra Pound is obviously striking. The planes that create the face are definite and few. The initial longitudinal impact of the hair, nose and beard produce a potent effect whereas the eyes and brow give strength and balance. This head bears resemblance to the Easter Island heads of Oceania but there is a great difference in that here Gaudier has captured and revealed Pound’s personality. And from the reverse side it is overtly phallic in form. And this concentration on all aspects and perspectives of the one work continued in his Redstone Dancer (1913).

As one critic put it,   ‘….Redstone Dancer  is a flame angrily bursting into life  to herald the beginning of the new order.’  (Cork, Vorticism I:176)  The sculpture shows the connection of volumes and a conceptual approach to the organic form dominating the composition. The figure is one of sinuous motion and intensity. The red Mansfield stone from which the piece is carved glimmers with a satin finish which illuminates the planes of this piece’s ‘primitive’ forms. The arms enveloping the head and the twisted contrapposto stance emanate concentrated energy from within the centre of the piece. Attention is focused on the forms, their arrangement, rhythm and balance and not on the material qualities of the stone. The front view of the piece with its cluster of detailed elements- flipper hands, triangular features, circle and elongated circle of the breasts- contrasts sharply with the smooth convex expanse of the back. It is a masterpiece from every angle. Redstone Dancer is recognized as one of Gaudier’s most important works. The characteristic ‘primitive’ intensity of the figure and its bent posture combined with the classicism of it’s contrapposto position are arranged with a manipulation of the anatomy which seem to substantiate its position in the birth of modernism.

Red Stone Dancer c.1913 by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 1891-1915

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, “Red Stone Dancer” 1913

As much as the Redstone Dancer is Gaudier’s most well-known work, it can be said that his sculpture Grief ( unknown date ), is almost totally unknown. This stone-carved figure has a rough surface which gives a feeling of someone who is closed off to the outside world. The arms, legs and head of the seated woman are all gathered inwards portraying a silence that follows the primal scream of loss and sorrow, leaving nothing but exhaustion and emptiness. In portraying an expression of sorrow using the round, paleolithic forms, Gaudier has given this piece balance and beauty, again from every perspective.

Sepulchral Figure 1913 by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 1891-1915

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, “Grief” 1913

Evelyn Silber (1996 p.141) states that from a late twentieth century perspective that mainly uses constructive sculptural techniques, improvised materials and ready-mades, Gaudier can be seen as being part of an anti-industrial rearguard of artists using traditional materials with a combination of archaic and primitive art forms to express their dissidence. However, the force of ‘primitivism’ was less a matter of structure for the Expressionists than of spiritual affinities and mystic union between the artists, their subjects and their materials.  Thus these artists, by looking outside the parameters of traditionalist western art, could break the tight bonds of their own visual history and project art into the modernist era.


HOFFMANN, WERNER, Painting in the Twentieth Century Volume 2,1965 Published by Prestel-Verlag, Munich, Germany pp. 53-56

BOWNESS, ALAN,  Modern European Art ,1972 ,Thames and Hudson Ltd London ,pp. 98-99

FLAM. J.D., Matisse on Art, Oxford, Phaidon 1973 p.74

SHELDON, JULIE, 1996, Matisse and the problem of expression in early twentieth century art, Chapter 3 in Liz Dawtrey, Toby Jackson, Mary Masterton, Paul Meecham and Paul Woods (eds.) Investigation in Modern Art, Yale University Press in association with the Open University and the Tate Gallery, London, pp 47-59.

SILBER, EVELYN, Finn, David, Gaudier-Bzreska 1996 Thames and Hudson Ltd London  pp.73-141


HOFFMANN, WERNER, Painting in the Twentieth Century Volume 2,1965 Published by Prestel-Verlag, Munich, Germany

BOWNESS, ALAN,  Modern European Art ,1972 ,Thames and Hudson Ltd London

FLAM. J.D., Matisse on Art, Oxford, Phaidon 1973

SHELDON, JULIE, 1996, Matisse and the problem of expression in early twentieth century art, Chapter 3 in Liz Dawtrey, Toby Jackson, Mary Masterton, Paul Meecham and Paul Woods (eds.) Investigation in Modern Art, Yale University Press in association with the Open University and the Tate Gallery, London,

SILBER, EVELYN, Finn, David, Gaudier-Bzreska 1996 Thames and Hudson Ltd London

BUTLER, ADAM, VAN CLEAVE, CLAIRE, STIRLING, SUSAN, 1996, The Art Book, Phaidon Press Publishing, London

MATISSE, HENRI 1984, ‘Notes of a painter, 1908’ in H.B. Chipp, Theories of Modern Art: A sourcebook by artists and critics, University of California Press, Berkeley

SELZ, PETER 1984, ‘Fauvism and expressionism: the creative intuition’ in H.B. Chipp, Theories of Modern Art: A sourcebook by artists and critics, University of California Press, Berkeley

KLEINER, FRED.S, MAMIYA, CHRISTIN J., 2005, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, Twelfth Edition, Wadsworth/Thompson Learning


And was Jerusalem builded here

   among these dark Satanic mills?

  William Blake, 1804

These lines from Blake’s poem refer to a period of great change in the Western world – the Industrial Revolution. At this time two of England’s greatest Romantic landscape painters were to emerge, each with a distinct viewpoint from which they addressed their work. In this essay I will expound the idea that these two landscape artists painted their worlds from respective utopian and dystopian views. The concept of utopia is a state where everything is for the best and all is in harmony. Contrarily, the concept of dystopia is a state where everything is as bad as it possibly could be. Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775- 1851) revealed a more inquisitive attitude toward industrialization, whereas John Constable (1776-1837) was far more nostalgic and wistful for an England of another time. Constable’s view of England during the Industrial Revolution was dystopic because he witnessed the environmental and social degradation that was overwhelming his beloved countryside and painted the other extreme. However Turner embraced the new technologies that afforded him the ability to move at will around England and Europe, and painted a utopian world where these technologies were all working for the betterment of human society.

The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain and resulted from the development of technology to aid manufacturing. Before this time, manufacturing was mainly a rural occupation of cottage industries. However,Great Britain had large resources of iron and coal, and after the invention of the steam engine by James Watt (1736-1819), these became the prime resource upon which industrialization depended. Moreover, many other raw materials came from Britain’s colonies and, as it was the leading colonial power, these colonies provided ready markets for manufactured goods. Industrialization meant that coal-powered machines replaced handwork, and factories became the best method of bringing together machines and the people to operate them. The significance of this was a great increase in the production of goods and also of the population. This larger population congregated around factories in the cities and towns, creating overcrowded and unsanitary conditions for many of the working class. Women and children were mainly employed by the factories, as they were the cheaper employees. This left many men unemployed that were previously employed as farm workers and with the country becoming more urbanised, civil unrest grew.

Turner was born at the beginning of this era in Covent Garden, London in 1775. His father was a wigmaker who found himself in financial hardship when wigs became unfashionable after the French Revolution. As his mother had also become mentally ill, the young Turner was sent to stay with his uncle in the country at Brentford. It was here that the landscape must have inspired him as he filled many sketchbooks with drawings of the surrounding countryside. Turner’s father was very proud of what his young son had produced and put some of Turner’s sketches in his shop window for sale. Even though Turner had had very little education, he was then accepted into the Royal Academy School on the quality of these drawings. From this young age he travelled throughout England and Wales producing many drawings and watercolours. At twenty-four, he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy, and in 1802 became a full member. From an early age, Turner had many patrons, a number of these being major financiers and industrialists of the Industrial Revolution.

In his book Turner and the Industrial Revolution, William Rodner argues that more than any other aspect of industrialism, save the railroad, urban manufacturing captured the attention of Turner. The smoke-laden communities that he sketched on his travels around Britain in the 1790s were landscapes that ‘linked familiar custom with wrenching innovation’ (Rodner 1997). Turner’s sketchbooks contain many singular studies of grinding wheels, mill wheels, sluices and new bridges which attest to his interest in the new inventions of the age. The watercolour Llanstephen Castle by Moonlight, with a Kiln in the Foreground 1795-6 shows modern industry in the form of a lime kiln in the foreground, but is set against ancient heritage in the form of a ruined castle. This device represents a vision of Britain as ‘a place at once historic and modern’ (TateBritain).  Another watercolour shows Leeds, a centre in the wool and flax industries, as a growing metropolis. The activities of cloth workers outside the mills are pictured. It is a representation of facts, atmospherically rendered, with the circular composition leading the eye to the smoking factories in the background. Turner does not concentrate on the distressing working conditions inside the factories; he seems to look at the industrialisation of Britain as a necessary part of its greatness.

During the first decades of the nineteenth century Turner concentrated on painting splendid neo-classical scenes, as well as magnificent landscape and marine paintings. These were readily accepted by both collectors and the general public. He adopted advanced printing technologies, notably steel-engraving, for an increasingly large and influential middle-class market (Rodner 1997). He also continued as teacher of perspective at the Royal Academy although his investigations into light also drew marvellous results. In the oil painting Keelmen Heaving Coals by Night (1835) Turner transcends the grim realities of the Industrial Revolution with gradations of light, creating a powerful, swirling vortex. Keelmen in their dark flat-bottomed keels haul coal from Northumberland and Durham down the River Tyne, transferring it into the sailing ships. Behind the ships Turner, with a few lines of paint, suggests a distant cluster of factories. It is a North Sea view that would have been a familiar sight to the British public; ‘sooty, modern industry chilled by the colours of a winter’s night’ (National Gallery of Art). The painting is described by the New York Times critic, James Atlas, as ‘a hallucinatory vision of England on the threshold of a new age and the industrial inferno it portended, shimmers like a Monet (Atlas 1997). It is a grim industrial scene painted in a grand neo-classical manner.

As the Industrial Revolution was a time of technological and scientific innovation, we are told by the art historian Kenneth Clark that Turner was perfecting for his own private satisfaction an entirely new approach to painting. It consisted of transforming everything into pure colour and was a truly revolutionary procedure. As emotional and romantic as it may seem, Turner’s colour was not decorative and was always started as a record of an actual experience (Civilization 1968). His approach to colour was influenced by Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s (1749-1832) book, Theory of Colour, which was published in 1840. Goethe wrote; ‘The sun, when seen through a certain amount of haze, presents a yellowish disc… [it] announces itself to us via a red hue as it shines through a dense mass of mist’ (Goethe 1840). One can see this effect rendered in many of Turner’s works, especially his marine paintings and his views of London. This may have been due to the immense amount of smoke in the sky found over the ports and towns in England. In the oil painting Snowstorm- Steam-boat off a Harbour’s Mouth 1842, the brushstrokes travel around in the same direction influencing the observer’s gaze. A ‘whirling’ movement results as the viewer’s gaze passes through various areas of colour on the surface of the painting. Each colour contrasts and out of this contrast every colour emerges, which is the basis of Goethe’s theory.

Rodner observes that Turner examined a wide range of steam subjects with such commitment and insight as to deserve recognition as the premier artist of the Industrial Revolution. He had firsthand experience of his subjects as he travelled widely and often throughout Britain and northern Europe using steamboats and trains. He enjoyed friendships with leading members of the scientific community, such as Charles Babbage (Rodner 1997). The Great Western Railway became the subject of the earliest railroad painting by a major artist. It dramatically exposed one of the principal aspects of industrial advancement after 1830 and, as writer Clarence Jones states, ‘Turner admired modernity.’ He even owned shares in the company! Rain, Steam, and Speed- The Great Western Railroad (1844) was a purely artistic painting. Here as the train speeds over the great engineer Brunel’s bridge at Maidenhead, Turner is glorifying the railways and the industrial age- ‘depicting the rush of progress carrying humans forward at an ever-increasing pace’ (Jones 1994).

As Turner embraced this new world, John Constable (1776-1837) rejected it by resolutely not including any of the new technologies in his mainly agrarian paintings. No speed or steam for him! His dystopian view of the effects of industrialization was to paint a solid, ‘merry old England’ based on oak trees, country cottages and water wheels. In his biography on Constable, Clarence Jones tells that Constable was born in East Bergholt, Suffolk. He was the middle son of a large middle-class family and his father was a prosperous corn-merchant who had considerable property interests around the region. Suffolk, and the mills that his father owned there, became important subjects in Constable’s paintings, so much so that the area became known as ‘Constable Country’. In 1799 he won his parent’s permission to study at the Royal Academy School  in London and exhibited for the first time in 1802. He was now fully committed to art based on nature and landscape with ‘a serious, moral and intellectual purpose’ (Jones 1994).

Constable’s long engagement with Dedham Vale, or the Stour Valley, begins with the River Stour which runs through the Suffolk countryside and is featured in the oil painting Dedham Vale 1802. The church in this painting is a landmark and a symbol of country life, of which it was the centre. Constable saw this valley as a microcosm of the whole world the way he would like it to remain, ‘ I should paint my own places best,’ he said. ‘I associate my careless boyhood to all that lies on the banks of the Stour’ (Jones 1994). Robert Hughes writes in his review of Constable’s work that ‘[his] entire view of rural England presents Arcadia in a new guise (Hughes 1983). Hughes goes on to state that Dedham Vale and the River Stour looked markedly different to Constable’s contemporary, the writer and reformer William Cobbett. His view was that, ‘they were full of rick burners, machine breakers, hanging judges and brutal yeomanry’ (Hughes 1983). Constable wrote that his paintings were an attempt to give ‘one brief moment caught from fleeting time a lasting and sober existence’ (Craske 1997).

Between 1810 and 1816 Constable divided his time almost exclusively between London and East Bergholt. In 1815 he painted two rather small canvases, that he never exhibited, of his father’s and mother’s gardens at his family home, Golding Constable’s Kitchen Garden and Golding Constable’s Flower Garden. They are painted with extraordinary detail and give a ‘near-idyllic’ view of the English country life at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (Jones 1994). It is interesting to note that it was a retrospective view, as the estate was soon to be sold upon the death of his parents. Elizabeth Helsinger tells us in her essay on Constable that he was much influenced by his family’s possessions and the social status they provided. Therefore, rather than see his local environment in the context of larger social structures or the history of the time, Constable felt his environment as ‘an enclosed circle of security which his family had provided’. He wrote to his wife about his family home, ‘Here we are so much one,’ under ‘this dear roof’ ‘with all my family at our comfortable and happy fireside’ (Helsinger 1989).

Britain’s National Gallery Art Educator, Louise Govier, describes The Haywain 1821 as a beautifully tranquil painting. It depicts happy and contented agricultural workers going about their business. However the historical reality behind the painting is quite different. In fact, after the Napoleonic Wars many of the men who had previously been employed on the land came back to find that the machinery of the Industrial Revolution had replaced much of their work and, added to this, the agricultural blockades of the Wars had been lifted leaving agricultural areas such as Suffolk in the doldrums. There was much unrest and hardship that Constable would have been aware of, particularly as his family owned much of the property in the area (National Gallery of Britain). It must be asked why Constable decided to depict this scene in such an idealised way. Did his view of his home make him nostalgic for days from his boyhood? Or was he just trying to ignore the disturbing outlook and replace it with a dream? Robert Hughes states that Constable was full of uncertainty and fear of change, ‘ He did not so much idealize stability as worship it…Peace, security, the untroubled enjoyment of unproblematic Nature: such is the main motif of Constable’s work’ (Hughes 1983).

The Valley Farm 1835 shows a view of Willy Lott’s House at Flatford from the River Stour. The farmer lived continuously there for over eighty years and for Constable, the Tate catalogue tells, it came to represent an important part of the Suffolk landscape, a nostalgic symbol of the ‘natural’ way of life (Tate Britain). Helsinger suggests that it is an image of desire rather than faithful representation. There is a note of melancholy in both the distance and the stillness that Constable has achieved in the painting (Helsinger 1989). In the longing for ‘bygone days’, the farmhouse becomes an icon of Englishness and, it must be remembered, that this was one of the first of Constable’s works to become a successful print series. Constable’s dystopic view is reflected in the poem by the Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850), Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.

There was a time when meadow, grove and stream,

The earth and every common sight,

To me did seem

Apparelled in Celestial light,

The glory and the freshness of a dream

                                                      William Wordsworth, 1804 

It is with these lines from Wordsworth that the fundamental difference between the attitudes of Turner and Constable become apparent. Turner was essentially a progressive. He was born in an urban environment in financially difficult circumstances and saw in the Industrial Revolution all the opportunities of a new age. Constable, however, was essentially nostalgic for an age that, in his imagination, had been lost. He was born in rural Suffolk in very comfortable circumstances and saw in the Industrial Revolution an age of ugliness and want. Furthermore, Turner was a traveller who loved to constantly discover new subjects to paint, whereas Constable fixated on the one small area in which he had been born. These differences also seem to show in the circumstances of the buyers of their work. Turner’s clients were progressive thinking industrialists, aristocrats and financiers, while Constable’s, for the few he had, were mainly conservative members of the clergy and the military.

Finally, it is recognised that both artists had a remarkable effect on late nineteenth and early twentieth century art, with Constable having an influence on the Impressionists, and Turner an influence on the Modernists. Maybe this is, in essence, the result of their utopian and dystopian visions. The Impressionists saw dystopia in the slums of Paris and looked to the beauty of the everyday, while the Modernists looked to science and theory for their new Utopia. Therefore, Turner’s attitude towards the industrial age was a utopian portrayal of atmospheric progress and the new civilization that would rival Greece or Rome. While Constable’s work reveals a reaction to his dystopian view of industrialized England, painting pictures of pastoral scenes; places where time has not been allowed to move on. Both artists, in their Romantic attitude, ignored the realities of the Industrial Revolution.



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To understand the reconciliation or meshing of ideas of philosophy and attitudes in the period when Greek art emerged from idealism to naturalism, one need only focus on the years 500 – 400 BCE. During this period Greece experienced a dramatic and vibrant change, not only in the arts, philosophy and politics but also in the everyday effect on people from disparate backgrounds. It is the sculptors of this period that we can look back on now who documented quite distinctly the changes and development of the attitudes of the people. Whether the sculptures reflected the mood and understanding of the people or visa versa one can only surmise. But we do know that the ancient Greeks were the first people to have an understanding in the worth of the individual man.

When the known earth was mostly dominated by absolute monarchies, the Greeks developed the belief that man was not a slave of a despot or a deity, but an individual. They sought to be themselves under the Delphic principle, “Know Thyself”. The reason why this short period of one hundred years had such a huge effect on the dawn of mankind’s thinking we must look at the difference between the artworks that arose from the  disparate islands and harsh mainland of Greece, environments that encouraged individual growth, and the artworks found in the monarchic cities of the vast plains of grain in Asia Minor.

“The Calf Bearer” (560 BCE) differs from those of earlier Greek and Egyptian sculptures in that he is smiling. From this time onwards the Archaic Greek sculptures always wore a smile, possibly to show a human element in their existence. Even though the Calf Bearer comes from the Archaic period, there is a certain Classicism in parts of the sculpture in its simplicity and beauty of line. Here lies a marriage between the Archaic and Classical periods of Greece and the beginning of naturalism.

By examining in detail the sculptures of the western pediment of the Temple of Aphaia 500-490BCE and “The Dying Warrior” of the same time, we see a rigidness and firmness in the form of the sculpture, not unlike the works of latter Ancient Egypt. This idealized work, in most cases, was to represent the gods of different eras. Then in a development which happened at an amazing rate the form of the sculpture changed. It was no longer stiff, rigid and formidable but had begun to loosen and roll with emotion and softness. One sees this in the contrast of the two “Dying Warriors”, west pediment (500-490BCE ) and east pediment (490-480BCE), and also in “Athena, Herakles and Atlas with the Apples of Hesperides” from the same temple (470-456BCE). These latter sculptures have a naturalistic form which clearly shows that realism had taken hold.

Whilst our marble warriors were dying in 480BCE, the Persian Wars had given Greece the victory it needed to  leap forward culturally. Up to this point the Greeks had praised the gods for their achievements. Now, following their victory over the Persians, they had more faith in man and man’s ability than ever before. Their confidence was stronger than ever. “The world is full of wonders,” sang Sophocles, “but nothing is more wonderful than man.”At this time the mood in Greece was moving from idealism to naturalism, even more so as their faith in the power of the gods was waning and realism was appearing at the edge of the sculptor’s hand. The stiff ‘kouros’ pose of the Archaic period was rejected and the ideals that were to characterize Classical Greece in the fifth century were imbued.

Another form to differentiate from the ‘kouros’ pose is typified in the “Kritios Boy” from the Athenian Acropolis (480BCE). He is still a standing frontal youth but now his weight has shifted onto one leg in the pose we now call ‘contrapposto’. To the sculptor the body was now one of flesh and bones rather than the stiff puppet of earlier periods. On the pediments of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (470-456BCE) there is a lifelike expression in every single face. The people are now individuals. An example is the “The Seer” in which the artist renders old age, and different figures were shown in their different social statuses. The Archaic tradition is still seen, but naturalistic and idealistic trends are breaking through.

By the middle of the fifth century Athens had become a cauldron for thinkers and artists. Pericles, the politician, was surrounded by great minds such as Phidias the sculptor, Anaxagoras the philosopher/physicist, and the architect Ictinus. With the completion of the Parthenon (447-432BCE), Greek culture erupted with music, dance, theatre, painting, pottery, sculpture, architecture, philosophy and the sciences all blossoming. Idealism and a fascination with rational inquiry pervaded. Philosophers such as Pythagoras searched for evidence of a divine and rational plan for the cosmos. The Greeks’ attitude towards their gods waned but their desire for idealism still grew. Phidias carved the pediments of the Parthenon with the stories of the old gods, although now they appeared in naturalistic form celebrating the works of man. Naturalistic science was maturing with skeptical rationalism. The natural was evolving from the supernatural. These gods of Phideas’ were real men and women, human and individual. The idealized mortal is near-divine, self-sufficient and above ordinary passions.

But this period of positive, creative idealized energy did not last long as the philosophers began to unravel the rug from under the peoples’ feet, which left them negative and insecure. The Sophists eventually took the intellectual lead, with Protagoras stating, “Man is the measure of all things.” Then Critias suggested that the gods were invented to instill fear into those who would otherwise act in an evil manner. The Sophists spread in Athens a radical skepticism which ate away at Athenian positivism and bred cynicism. The more conservative sensibilities of the foundation of the traditional Hellenic values were being dangerously eroded while reason and skill had less than an impeccable reputation. The Sophists took naturalism to a dangerous extreme and, as they created a financial guild for themselves, there was no longer truth in their argument. Rather, it was the skill to convince the audience they were right by their style and not by the matter of fact.

Thus entered Socrates 469-399BCE. In Socrates’ later years, he established himself on the streets of Athens as an orator, questioning any member of the public who cared to partake in a debate on seeking truth. Socrates would gather large audiences during his exercise of questioning although, unlike the Sophists, he requested no fee for his effort. His only motivation was in the seeking of truth. Chaerephon, a friend of Socrates, went to Delphi and asked the priestess who was the wisest of men and she answered that there was none more than Socrates. Socrates took the oracle’s statement to mean that he or any other man was not wise at all but only the gods were wise. After an argument with a politician the man walked off, leaving Socrates to state to his audience:

Well I am certainly wiser than this man. It is only too likely that
neither of us has any knowledge to boast of; but he thinks he knows
something that he does not know, whereas I am quite conscious
of my ignorance. At any rate it seems I am the wiser to this small
extent, that I do not think that I know what I do not know.

Socrates philosophy was the reconciliation of idealism and naturalism; a balance of rationalism and tradition. He felt that man believing himself to be like the gods had overreached himself in his arrogance, bringing years of disastrous war with Sparta. When, finally, he had antagonized the authorities by his encouragement of critical skepticism, he was considered a dangerous influence to youth and sentenced to death in 399BCE. Fortunately for western civilization it was Plato 429-347BCE who documented and extended the teachings of Socrates.

Within these one hundred years between 500-400BCE the reconciliation of idealism and naturalism occurred. The next century was to increasingly see the naturalistic, realistic sculpture of the Hellenistic Period such as the “Cnidian Aphrodite” 340BCE by Praxiteles, the abstract idealism of Plato combined with the naturalistic philosophy, and science of Aristotle, who said: “We must be immortal as far as we can.”

Art Through The Ages- Twelfth Edition: Fred S. Kleiner Christian J.Mamiya

Chapter 3 Ancient Greece: The Classical Spirit

Classical Greece- C.M. Bowra 1975: Time Inc.

Greek Art- John Boardman 1964: Thames and Hudson

A Greek World View- Richard Tarnas : Reader Notes

Plato- The Last Days Of Socrates: Penguin Classics

“Whatever may be the age of these paintings, it is scarcely probable that they could have been executed by a self-taught savage.”
Sir George Grey, 1837
(Morphy, 1998:20)

Until recently, European history of Aboriginal art has given little to which one could reference as few art objects were collected and most were relegated to ethnographic novelty. Being the first European to document the Wandjina rock paintings in the Kimberley, Sir George Grey was quick to dismiss the idea that they were done by the local people because of the works’ apparent technical skill and startling aesthetics (Morphy, 1998:20). However, these paintings are an integral cultural element of the people of the coastal country of the Kimberley. This essay will explore how the Dreaming encompasses the past, present and future, and how the Wandjina figures have been used by Aboriginal artists in the past and the present to reaffirm their connection with their land.

Art is the access to the Dreaming; a contact to the spiritual dimension, yet also the product of the Dreaming. The term Dreaming, or Dreamtime, was first used in the late nineteenth century by anthropologists to translate Aboriginal concepts into the structure of European thinking. To understand the concept involves an explanation of Aboriginal ideas about the nature of the universe (Morphy, 1998:67). Most Aboriginal belief systems give an account of creation as a time when ancestral beings emerged from the earth to give shape to the world. They were complex forms which could transform in shape from animals such as kangaroos, to inanimate objects such as rocks and trees. They could also become such complex existences as bushfires or honey. As they moved across and beneath the surface of the earth they sang songs and performed ceremonies (Morphy, 1998:69). All their actions had a consequence upon the landscape, creating waterholes or cave entrances from where they emerged, to trees where they stuck their digging sticks. Their spiritual force is said to be incarnate within the land (Morphy, 1998:71).

Underlying the stories of the Dreaming are creative powers that are manifest in the development of particular forms. The most direct manifestation of ancestral beings are the features of the landscape but they also left behind representations of themselves in the form of art. They were conscious of the effect their actions would have upon the future and were concerned that the humans who succeeded them would continue in their footsteps. Therefore records of their actions were also made in songs, dances, paintings, ceremonies and sacred objects (Morphy, 1998:84). This art is also more than a representation of the ancestral beings past but also their present. The paintings, body decorations and sacred objects were first used by the ancestors in their lifetime and they invented the ceremonies that commemorated their sacred lives. When people today paint themselves with these designs, they are engaging in the actions of the ancestral beings. Since these designs are thought to have arisen out of ancestral activities and the people today have their origin with these spirits, ‘art enables Aboriginal people to participate directly in the ancestral world’ (Morphy, 1998:100).

The Kimberleys in northwest Western Australia are characterized by the Wandjina paintings. These cave paintings date back at least 1500 years ago to the present and depict spirit beings called Wandjina, who are said to have come from the sea and the sky (Morphy, H. 1998:55). As they moved across the landscape they created its features. The differing stories surrounding the wanderings of the Wandjina all share a similar account of a major battle between the Wandjina, led by the spirit Wodjin, and the people of the area, the ancestors of todays Ngarinyin, Worora, Wunambul and Ungarinyin peoples. Once this great battle was over, the Wandjina dispersed and were absorbed into the rocks of the area as paintings (Stanton, 2006:416). Because of their great difference to Aboriginal artworks of other areas, the paintings were originally attributed to alien people by Sir George Grey who even thought the area had been visited by the Ancient Greeks (Morphy, 1998:10). The Wandjina figures are impressively large humanoid figures of up to 7 metres in length, having prominent eyes and noses, no mouth, a large oval placed over the breast and a large decorated circle around the perimeter of the head. According to I.M. Crawford in his book ‘Art of the Wandjina’ the images represented the force within a thunderhead, having both human and cloud characteristics. The headdress or circle around the head being the cloud and the patterning the thunder coming from it (Stanton, 2006:415).

Being part of the different regional religions of the area, each clan has its own special central artwork for which they are responsible. This responsibility entailed the ritual repainting of the figures and ensured the fertility of the land and return of the seasons. Some of the rock paintings were associated with spirit conception through which it was believed that children were conceived. The repainting of these figures ensured the power of these spirits and also contributed to their aesthetic impact. Each of the Wandjina are painted in red ochre on a brilliant white ground and were organised along with other figures into a complex spectacle. The repainting over the centuries has made the paintings both part of the past and the present (Morphy, 1998:56). Their activities are recounted in stories, song and performance. The images on the rocks are the places where they were absorbed after dying, leaving their skin as an ochred painting so that the people coming afterwards would know where they were. It was the duty of these people to conserve and repaint them repeatedly therefore ensuring the Wandjina’s strength and vitality (Stanton, 2006:415).

The Dreaming permeated all aspects of living. It imbued the mundane with spiritual character and allowed Aboriginal people to feel secure within the certainty of these ancestral beings. These spirit beings interest in human beings had to be sustained and the people had to make sure that continuity was maintained (Berndt, 1973:31). According to Berndt this was what ritual was all about; ‘Aboriginal man performed religious rituals for this purpose, among other and more secondary reasons’ (Berndt, 1973:31). Art was a necessity and, having a religious basis, was viewed as work. Its focus was its content, meaning and ceremonial value (Berndt, 1973:32). The indigenous people of the Kimberley express their social and religious beliefs through both visual and performed art. Even though European influences are pervasive their art involves strong elements of continuity from the past as well as understanding the changes of the present day.

The art of the Wandjina is an expression of continuity from its origins in rock art to more contemporaneous media such as canvas and acrylic. The imagery is a vital source of inspiration and legitimisation for the contemporary artists of the area. The repainting of the Wandjina is still carried out today and reaffirms these artists’ individual rights and responsibilities to the land and is a current influence of Dreaming and Dreaming beings. This is important as many of these people were forced to leave their lands and this resulted in depopulation and dislocation. Far away from their Dreaming, these displaced peoples use artistic activity as recognition of their continual custodianship through which the rituality of ‘caring for country’ can be re-lived and re-asserted (Stanton, 1998:416).

Ancient images of Wandjina are recreated today by individual artists within the responsibility of their clan group. Wandjina were painted on bark as early as 1937 and the method was well-established by the 1960s (Stanton, 1998:416). In 1965, Charlie Numbulmoore painted Wandjina Spirits, an exceptional work painted on bark showing two dark-eyed white figures outlined in red ochre on a white ground. Numbulmoore had the responsibility of repainting the Wandjina figures found on the rock walls in his country (Dedman, R.,2006:454). During the 1970s there was an expansion and commercialisation of painted Wandjina figures with them being painted on canvas and put up for sale. In1972, the Kulumburu artist Waddy Karawadda painted a Wandjina figure for a rock-art construction at the Museum of Western Australia. In 1976, other members of the Kulumburu community made their own eucalypt bark paintings using the mouth spray and hand stencil technique known in rock art and attached their work to supports. One of the most well-known Wandjina artists is the late Kalumburu artist Alec Mingelmanu who died in 1981. His aims were to continue the cultural practices and visual representations of his Woonambel traditions (McCulloch, 2001:36). He used ground ochre pigments to depict large-scale Wandjina figures.

Decorated pearl shells, carved boab nuts and also tjuringa, sacred objects used in ceremonies embodying the spirit of the individual or spirit being who owns them (Barlow,Hill, 2000:16), were used upon Aboriginal trade roads as transportable art objects before the commercialization of Aboriginal art in the 1980s. Smaller bark paintings, engraved slate and stone were also created for the tourist market. These were regarded by the artists as reproductions of ‘real’ Wandjina rock paintings (Stanton 2006:416). These depictions of Wandjina are reflections of the artists’ role within their communites. They provide the basis for the reassertion of identification with some of the different clans’ Dreamings, even though some of these people no longer have access to their land. The artworks fund ritual activities and allow an identification and understanding of the changed environment in which Indigenous people now live (Stanton, 2006:419).

The Wandjina figures became the dominant ancestral theme in the Kimberley because of their relatively recent appearance. Unlike other earlier rock art in the area, it became an integral part of the cultural belief systems for these figures to be maintained by each generation. Furthermore, the maintenance of these figures through either repainting or reproduction became ceremonial as they provided continuity and faith that such a harsh landscape would be able to renew itself. Unfortunately, European colonization has had an extensive impact upon the Indigenous people of the Kimberley. Therefore it remains to be seen if the current generation of young people will, in the future, be able to uphold the ceremonial renaissance of these figures.

Berndt, R.M., 1973, The Arts of Life: An Introduction in The Australian Aboriginal Heritage: An Introduction Through the Arts (pp. 31-44), Sydney: Australian Society for Education through the Arts in association with Ure Smith
Dedman, R,. 2006, Wandjina [figures], in Art and Australia, v.43, no.3, Autumn, p.454
Mc Culloch, S., 2001, Contemporary Aboriginal Art: A guide to the rebirth of an ancient culture, Allen and Unwin, Sydney
Morphy, H, 1998. Aboriginal Art, Phaidon Press, London
Stanner, 1953, The Dreaming in White Man Got No Dreaming, Australian National University Press, Canberra
Stanton, J.E., 2006, Wandjina, in Art and Australia, v. 43, no. 3, Autumn, pp 414-419 -Retrieved13th Dec. 2008 -Retrieved 13th Dec. 2008