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The Kenneth Jack View

January 2013

  • Alexandra Aulich

The Kenneth Jack View is as much a journey through the beauty and vastness of this continent, as it is through an artist’s working life.

It is a story that begins with an eight year old boy drawing a Melbourne tram scene in his sketchbook and watching his father work as a commercial artist for Vic Rail, through to becoming an internationally recognised watercolourist some years on. Throughout the intervening years Jack was a prolific painter and printmaker, and a dedicated teacher.

Kenneth Jack’s view of Australia: from small towns, landscapes, and architecture, there is reward for anyone who takes the time to contemplate the works in this survey exhibition. The viewer may find a familiar town such as Albury, Echuca, or Hobart. Perhaps it is not a place but rather a nostalgic element to engage with; the colour of the sky at a particular time of day, the hot midday sun of regional Victoria in a flat dry landscape. This can be the experience offered by realist art, and by the very nature of Jack’s subject matter. 

With a wanderlust instilled in him from an early age by his father, Jack travelled and explored Australia extensively. His figurative paintings and prints depict the landscape, regional towns and urban architecture and give us a lasting visual story of a continent that he clearly loved and felt a great affinity with. 

His time in service with the RAAF working as a survey and cartographic draughtsman from 1942-45 utilised his talent of drawing, a skill that would remain a guiding principle throughout his artistic life. An unofficial war artist, he produced some 500 drawings while serving in New Guinea, Morotai Island and North Borneo. This collection is now housed at the Australian War Memorial.

Jack’s drawing talent was recognised from a young age. At 23 he received a major commission to contribute more than thirty drawings for John Ure Smith’s significant 1948 publication The Melbourne Book. The two then went on to work on another publication The Charm of Hobart, with 52 architectural illustrations by Jack.

Known predominantly as a watercolour artist, Jack was also a printmaker for a number of years, mastering all matter of techniques: engraving, lithography, linocuts, and silkscreen. Jack’s introduction to printmaking in 1946 was in Ben Crosskell’s Saturday morning class at RMIT. In 1952 he attended weekly classes where established artists demonstrated the different techniques to the students. It was a time of rapid development and exploration of many mediums for Jack, and an exciting time for printmaking in Melbourne.
By 1956 Jack was Senior Lecturer in painting and printmaking at the Caulfield Institute of Technology (now part of Monash University). His contributions to the visual arts while working in education were many and varied, and under his leadership a separate painting and printing department were established at the institute. He was himself a master printmaker, and wrote about the pleasure of pulling his own prints.  

Modernist influences bought about significant changes in Jack’s work. The Kenneth Jack View presents oil and acrylic paintings as well as linocuts from the 1950s and early 60s when he embraced the flat picture plane. As acrylic paint became freely available and affordable, Jack began to work in, and enjoy, this new medium. 
Jack’s return to realism in the late 60s was in response to his environment. It is interesting that the visual vernacular that he ultimately settled on arose from a dialogue between himself and his subject matter, rather than any external influence of aesthetic fads. Though he had always travelled, Jack retired from teaching in 1968 and was able to cover greater distances through areas such as Central Australia and Queensland. These working trips moved Jack’s art in a new direction; a renewed appreciation of the Australian space, one deserving of light, shade and depth in its representation. This return to realism and traditional perspectives, which many of his contemporaries had moved away from, marked a new, mature phase of his career. 

Jack’s watercolour skies are one reminder of the way a painter labours over the perfection of their art; it was an anxiety Jack mentioned in a letter to Lloyd Rees, an artist with whom he had developed a firm friendship. Capturing the truth of what one saw, and translating this vision into something meaningful was what he strived for. 

Fascinated with light and its emotive potential, he experimented with how a break in the clouds can let a few intense rays of sunlight illuminate part of the landscape; the scarcity of tone a hangover from his printmaking days. And yet despite the apparent ‘realness’ of his paintings, Jack never deliberately set out to paint a pre-envisaged landscape.

Jack’s first trip outside of Australia was in 1973 to London to view a Lloyd Rees exhibition, the overseas travel providing new subject matter for the artist. A selection of watercolours from France and Scotland, along with the interior of Chartres Cathedral is included in the exhibition.

In launching a major exhibition with an extensive display of watercolours as well as lesser known  earlier works, The Gallery @ BACC presents Jack as an innovative artist who carved out a place for landscape in a particularly individual way.


The Kenneth Jack View shows at The Gallery @ Bayside Arts and Cultural Centre from January 19 to March 3.




Kenneth JACK, The woodcutters 1 1954, oil on board, 60 x 90cm

Kenneth JACK, The long platform, Albury 2002, watercolour on paper mounted on board, 103 x 152cm

Kenneth Jack, Tower of Babel 1962 (Detail), lino and woodcut on paper, 52 x 34cm.




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