We are the Dead MenAlbert Tucker's War
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1942 then Darwin the following February, Australians had to face the arrival of World War II at their doorstep. Life changed almost overnight, with the introduction of ‘brownout’ conditions, restrictions on daily activities, the influx of 30, 000 American troops, and the conscription of all able-bodied young men into the army—including Albert Tucker and most of the artists supported by John and Sunday Reed at Heide.
These artists, like many creative individuals of the intellectual left, were politically engaged and strongly opposed Australia’s involvement in the war. They regarded the violence and needless suffering as futile, proof of the degradation of humanist values in modern society. Many of them projected their beliefs in potent images that offer both a record of personal experiences in wartime Melbourne and a more universal response to the uncertain climate engendered by conflict. Their works signalled a new era in Australian art, shifting the focus away from the landscape tradition to the urban environment and to the idea of psychological unrest as a valid subject for artistic expression.
The exhibition takes its title from Albert Tucker’s painting We are the Dead Men—inspired by T. S. Eliot’s bleak poem The Hollow Men—written after the devastation of World War I. It presents a selection of work by Tucker, Yosl Bergner, Arthur Boyd, Joy Hester, John Perceval, and Sidney Nolan from this turbulent era. It includes grim depictions of army life, scenes of destruction in Europe and of hardship at home, troubling surrealist visions of maimed figures, and images of night life in 1940s Melbourne. It also includes a sampling of Tucker’s compelling photographs that provide a snapshot of a transformative period which forever changed the culture of Melbourne and the lives of its inhabitants.
Albert Tucker, Peace: Joy Hester Holding Sweeney, gelatin silver photograph, Gift of Barbara Tucker 2001