Stephens on Braund

Here is a woman artist well represented in our collection who deserves greater attention. Dorothy Braund (1926-2013) made a steady contribution to modernism in Australia and was subject of a major survey exhibition at CAM in 2006, curated by Kirsten McKay. Celebrated art writer Andrew Stephens reflects on a cracking Braund gouache in the collection.

Dorothy Braund, ('People at a bar' sequence), 1981, gouache on paper. Collection Castlemaine Art Museum, Gift of the Artist, 2010. Image: Ian Hill, copyright estate of the artist.

All of these bodies pressed up against each other exist in what seems to be a dreamed and distant history. It was 1981, a time when social non-distancing was encouraged; no one gave it a second thought. Closer was better, but it restricted sightlines, so Braund provides an under-the-bar view that includes crotches and pert, shapely bottoms. In this energetic gouache, spirit-laden and beery breaths puffing directly into more-than-receptive faces must be imagined, for the heads are out of frame. Identifying the genders and emotional states of these revellers is guesswork. It all seems humid, noisy, sexy and exciting, with all those hips and sweatily be-denimed arses, some of them even in flares.
Braund captures with ease the essence of a night out at a bar or club. Yet, to emphasise the atmosphere of this hothouse, she refuses to deploy a visual experience alone, conjuring up by suggestion a cacophonous soundtrack accompanied by a pall of cheap perfume and alcohol fumes, fused with BO.

Today, in a COVID-laced 2021, a return of the (dis)pleasures of this sort of social gathering brings fresh tensions; such public, physical closeness with strangers has almost vanished in these “unprecedented” times, whose many precedents include the HIV/AIDS pandemic, polio, the influenza pandemic of 1918, the Black Plague that lasted 300 years… and, of course, the human plague now pushing the natural world to its limits, just as Braund’s many bodies writhe to the edges of each individual frame.
Nine-panel suites were favoured by Braund in a number of her pieces, notably the nude (1976), bath (1976) and boating (1974) works-on-paper held in the CAM collection. In People at a bar, though, the nine panels are more cinematic than their predecessors, even if there is no sequential narrative to follow, apart from the lowering level of the bar itself and the move from dark to light across the images. There are lozenges of flesh being exposed by panel six, but they are dressed again by panel eight. Perhaps the sudden watery pallor of the colours towards the end indicates the break of dawn or lights-on as the bar shuts shop. Or maybe it’s just the souring, white-out effect of alcohol.
The year Braund made this work, Ronald Reagan became US President, the Yorkshire Ripper was arrested, the Iran hostage drama kicked off and what was to become the global HIV/AIDS crisis became official. But what I remember are certain songs released that year: Rapture (Blondie), Controversy (Prince), Lay all Your Love on Me (ABBA) and Pull Up to the Bumper (Grace Jones). Echoes of all of those songs are sizzling here in Braund’s brilliant, bluish snapshots of an enthusiastic social crush.

Andrew Stephens
October 2021

Andrew Stephens

Andrew Stephens is a writer, editor and curator. He edits IMPRINT magazine (Print Council of Australia), writes about the visual arts for various publications, and is author of Nitty-Gritty: The Sculpture of Dean Bowen (Australian Scholastic Publishing, 2021). He lives and works on unceded Kulin Nation land.

Womindjika Woorineen willam bit
Willam Dja Dja Wurrung Balug
Wokuk mung gole-bo-turoi
talkoop mooroopook

Welcome to our homeland,
home of the Dja Dja Wurrung people
we offer you people good spirit.
Uncle Rick Nelson

The Jaara people of the Dja Dja Wurrung are the Custodians of the land and waters on which we live and work. We pay our respects to the Elders past, present and emerging. We extend these same sentiments to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Nations peoples.

Enter here