In Australian Beach Pattern, 1940, painter Charles Meere created one of the iconic paintings of 20th century Australia, an image that continues to captivate 21st century viewers.
But Australian Beach Pattern also inspired harsh criticism – in the 1940s for being frigid, lifeless, laborious, literal, and since the 1980s for presenting Australians as a fascist ideal of racial perfection.
In her book Discovering Charles Meere, Joy Eadie takes a fresh look at this painting, and finds a very different artist, neither frigid nor fascist, with his own agenda. Eadie says his beach scene presents a critical but compassionate view of the people on the beach, self-absorbed and vulnerable as war looms; a tragi-comic vision achieved through allusions to certain masterpieces of European art, embodied in the composition and the complex array of figures.
Eadie reveals Meere as an artist who in this and other paintings addressed serious themes with a light touch through the use of allusion, irony and ambiguity; a thought-provoking artist with a wicked sense of fun. He developed a capacity to hide in plain sight elements crucial to the meaning of his works, which became a signature aspect of his enigmatic major paintings.
The author shows how Meere’s use of these techniques allowed him to covertly incorporate Aboriginal resistance into his conventional-looking poster, 150 Years of Progress, for the 1938 Anniversary Celebration of European settlement.
Eadie bring us an extraordinary artist, highly individual in both his vision and methods, engaged with the issues of the day in the country where, in midlife, he found himself; seeing Australia, its strengths and weaknesses, with a stranger’s eye; making from what he saw a body of work unlike any other painter’s.
The book is beautifully produced, and generously illustrated with Meere’s most significant Art Deco paintings, the European masterpieces he alluded to, and many detail images that bring out the subtleties of his art practice.