The Divine Imagination
Spiritual Art in the 20th Century
4 April - 26 July 2009
Drawn from the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia, this selection of prints, drawings and watercolours examines the central importance of spirituality to the work of twentieth-century artists.
At its simplest definition, spirit means ‘breath’ or the ‘beginning of conscious life’. Accordingly, these works, often mystical in nature, show artists grappling with and musing over the conditions that constitute and propel life. Pioneers in the fields of modern philosophy and theology, these artists cultivated beliefs unbound by official creeds of established religion. Imagining gods of their own, they sought to locate the spiritual significance of this world and of others, unseen.
This display is loosely grouped into three sections; the first is represented by artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, who believed abstraction was the only avenue through which life’s essential meaning could be expressed. The artist’s portrayals of music, movement and colour are syntheses of the immaterial elements he deemed the most vital and joyous parts of life.
The work of Australian modernist artists, including Dorrit Black and Christian Waller, also reflect their interest in newly established belief systems like Christian Science and modern Theosophy. With an emphasis on the interconnectedness of humans and nature, the tenets of Theosophy in particular were also akin to those developed independently by British artists, notably Graham Sutherland.
Meanwhile, the continued representation of religious narratives in the work of post-war artists
- Arthur Boyd and Roy de Maistre - attest to the enduring appeal of Biblical stories: their romance
and mystery providing material for profound and fantastical imagery.
Detail: Arthur Boyd, Australia, St Francis kissing the Wolf of Gubbio, from the series "St Francis of Assisi", 1965, London, Morgan Thomas Bequest Fund 1969, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. Reproduced with the permission of the Bundanon Trust.