Morden on Brack

Here is something to lift your spirits: Castlemaine Secondary College students Verity Morden and Lulu Carolan share their reflections on a striking gouache by John Brack (1920 -1999). Morden and Carolan responded to a digital file of Ray and Judy,1969 whilst CAM was temporarily closed due to the pandemic. These reflections form part of VCE Unit 1, presented by local artist Clayton Tremlett in which Year 11 students develop written skills in analysing works of art.

I invite you to share this reflection with friends and family, particularly young people who wish to develop their writing skills. Young writers are invited to contact us if they too would like to write a Reflection for publication, we will assist in the process.

Check out our home activities for the school holidays based on works at CAM, created for young people and the young at heart.

Naomi Cass
Director CAM Renewal

John Brack, Ray and Judy,1969, gouache, Castlemaine Art Museum, Purchased, 1970. Copyright Helen Brack.

Morden on Brack

John Brack’s gouache Ray and Judy comes from his ballroom dancing series made in 1969. John Brack was born in Melbourne in May 1920. Before attending art school, he had aspired to be a poet. However, he discovered he preferred exploring his feelings and thoughts through art. When Brack was a teenager, he attended evening classes at the National Gallery School between 1938 and 1940. From 1940-1946 he served in the Army. Following his discharge, he returned to the Gallery School to teach full-time until 1949. Brack worked as an assistant framer at the National Gallery before he was appointed head of the Gallery School, a position that he held until 1968. John Brack passed away in February 1999.

Ray and Judy depicts a man and woman ballroom dancing. The focal point in this painting is the man's face. His face is angled to the side with his eyes looking to a point in the distance, his mouth pulled into a wide grin baring his top row of teeth. The woman's head is angled up toward the man’s face meaning we can only see the side profile of her face. In many of Brack’s works he shows an interest in repetition and detail. This interest is most clearly found in the underside of the woman's skirt, her hair and in the rough crossing lines in the background of this gouache. His treatment of the background also creates texture and depth in the work.

Looking broadly across his work, it seems Brack was always interested in masked figures and the way we can create multiple identities for ourselves. Although Brack was not a dancer himself, I think he was drawn to professional ballroom dancing because of its sheer absurdity. Perhaps he was amazed that people would turn their free time and pleasure into work. Not only did this painting allow him to explore this interest but it was also an opportunity to explore human relationships both real and simulated. In this artwork the man’s face looks almost unrealistically happy, his gaze is into the distance and it makes him seem almost uninterested in what he is doing.

The male face plays on the idea of people having masks and multiple identities. We see this as false emotion in both faces. John Brack’s obsessive interest in masked figures and identities presents itself in many of his paintings. Perhaps putting on a false expression and pretence was something that Brack noticed within himself?

Carolan on Brack

Ray and Judy is a large gouache by renowned Australian artist, John Brack. This piece comes from a larger series of paintings depicting ballroom dancing, which Brack explored in the late 1960s.

When first viewing this artwork, my attention was instantly trapped by the man’s face. His static expression and wide-open mouth give the impression of a mask, something that Brack explored in great detail in his works; looking at people’s multiple identities which they create to protect themselves.

The self-assured position of the man’s body and his proud facial expression give a sense of masculine power and supercilious nature as he seems to fill the painting with his presence as he guides the woman across the dance floor. The stylised and artificial figures seem to represent the paragon of society and perhaps Brack was making a mockery of this perfection that was incessantly pursued.

Having danced at Over the Moon Dance Studio for many years and performed many dances on stage, this artwork brings to mind the main piece of advice I was given when performing; : always keep smiling no matter what. You must never let the audience know if you make a mistake and always put your best foot forward. In this artwork, I believe Brack is critiquing this unrealistic societal standard and the belief you must always pretend everything is fine as he explores the everyday monotony of life in his pas de deux.

The colours in this artwork are simple. For the figures, Brack has used blocks of colour and very little shadow, making this piece one-dimensional. The light tones of their skin and the woman’s dress and hair stand out and contrast with the dark reds and purples of the background, which is one of the most detailed elements in this artwork. The black lines running vertically down and the scratched lines create a sense of imperfection, which contrasts with the refined and simple figures.

Unlike the man who is dressed in a plain back and white suit, the patterns in the woman’s dress and hair bring the piece to life. These simple, repeated patterns create a sense of movement, which is complemented by the motion of her skirt, which elegantly swishes out from her body and toward the viewer. These small and refined details, which are a prominent part of Brack’s ballroom series, contribute beautifully to the completion of this work.

Verity Morden
I study Art at CSC along with a wide range of other subjects, my favourites being French, Art and Outdoor Environmental Studies. I have always loved painting, but I have developed an interest in people and their expressions over the past couple of years finding that more and more, my work and sketches depict people. After school I would love to travel around Europe then attend an art course at a university in Melbourne.

Lulu Carolan
I am a year 11 student at Castlemaine Secondary College and I am currently studying art, units 1 and 2. I adore art and my focus is ceramics, watercolour and oil paintings. For my future, I aspire to study art and ceramics at university and perhaps open my own shop and create and sell my art.

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