Visions of rural identity: a study of the rural figurative image in Australian art since 1880

O'Sullivan, Jill (2004) Visions of rural identity: a study of the rural figurative image in Australian art since 1880. Masters (Research) thesis, James Cook University.

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Abstract

The portrayal of the human presence placed in an Australian rural or outback environment has been a distinct feature of some of the most notable and iconic works within the history of Australian art. This imagery, through its history, has demonstrated artists' concerns with ideological notions of nationhood, myth making, legendary narratives, social and political issues but always with the focus remaining on the unpretentious folk of the bush. Iconic images have arisen from this genre and have become part of the national psyche providing a visual form of national self-identity. The genre has been at the forefront of innovative practice and changes in direction in Australian art since its inception.

This thesis explores, using a historical approach and through the relevant literature and art, the complex and varying forms of the rural figurative vision and the concerns of the artists that formed these visual representations of the rural figure. The discourse takes as its starting point the emergence of an Australian school of art in the 1880s that took the rural identity as important in defining both a national type and a specific originality for the recognition of Australian art. The research then continues to discuss the ever-changing role of the genre through the twentieth century.

The thesis investigates the influences, relationship to changing attitudes in society and the application of new methods and concepts to the continuous flow of new interpretations and transformations of the vision of the rural figure. Crucial works that represent the importance of the genre are discussed in this context. The study also offers insights into why certain works have become iconic symbols of Australian nation.

Research indicates that the developing role and nature of the rural figure in Australian art history and theory is contained within layers of landscape tenets. Consequently, in the literature, landscape ideology appears to overshadow the exurban figure. This study seeks rather to centre on depictions of human figuration within the context of the bush, isolating the theme as a distinct part of Australian art history. Through the study of the literature there appears to be an imbalance in acknowledging the importance and the history of a separate rural figurative genre. This thesis aims to address this.

As a case study to synthesize with the theoretical research and informed by the research focus, this artist/researcher presents a body of work centred on the people of a small rural community, Dajarra, in North West Queensland. This studio practice reflects on segments of contemporary rural life and examines the reality of the rural figure in a modern context. The methodology, concepts and exhibition are discussed in relationship to these visual studies.

The research reaches conclusions that validate the rural figurative imagery as a separate genre and establish its importance and influence within the history of Australian art. This research also concludes that much of this genre's imagery has become iconic due to its continued reflection of Australian culture and society, emerging self-identity and aspirations.

Item ID: 24948
Item Type: Thesis (Masters (Research))
Keywords: artists; art; identity; rural life; bushmen; bush women; Dajarra; exhibitions; Pinnacles Gallery; Mount Isa Civic Centre
Date Deposited: 13 Feb 2013 02:55
FoR Codes: 19 STUDIES IN CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING > 1901 Art Theory and Criticism > 190102 Art History @ 70%
19 STUDIES IN CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING > 1905 Visual Arts and Crafts > 190502 Fine Arts (incl Sculpture and Painting) @ 30%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9501 Arts and Leisure > 950104 The Creative Arts (incl. Graphics and Craft) @ 50%
95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950503 Understanding Australias Past @ 50%
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