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Westerners first colonized Australia in 1770, and during the 18th and 19th centuries, sculptors took their cues from European tradition. During the first years of colonization, most advanced sculptural techniques would have been impractical. By the 1840s, artists such as Daniel Herbert, Theresa Walker, and Benjamin Law were working in a variety of mediums, creating portrait busts or decorative stonework for public projects like the Ross Bridge in Tasmania.
In the 20th century, Australian sculpture continued to follow European art schools and movements. Charles Web Gilbert and Paul Montford created war memorial to fallen Australian soldiers after the First World War. The 1920s saw Australian sculpture increasingly influenced by abstraction and modernism. Artists such as Clement Meadmore created geometrical works out or metal and found materials, and received international recognition.
It was only towards the turn of the 20th century that the artistic traditions of the indigenous population began to receive recognition by the western settlers. Modernists and Impressionists experimented with incorporating Aboriginal geometric motifs into their pieces. Prior to this period, some colonists considered the native tradition to be devoid of artwork, due to the nomadic lifestyle of most Aborigines. However, Aboriginal rock decoration and sculpture date back to prehistory, about 30,000 years ago.
Two competing schools of Australian Modernism held shows and published manifestos criticizing their counterparts in the 1950s and 60s
One movement, calling themselves the “Antipodeans,” favored representative art over abstraction, and called for Australia to separate itself from international influence
In response, Australian Abstractionists, calling themselves the “Sydney 9,” held a series of shows providing counterarguments to this isolationism