Ralph Balson (1890–1964) was one the most progressive Australian artists of his time. In 1941, he held the first solo exhibition in Australia of entirely non-figurative painting. This exhibition, although it passed relatively unnoticed at the time, is now recognised as an important turning point in the story of Australian abstraction. The Gallery's recently acquired work Painting 1941 was first displayed in this exhibition, alongside 20 other bold abstract works, at the gallery Anthony Hordern & Sons in Sydney.
Painting highlights Balson’s dynamic approach to form, colour and space. Crisply painted opaque rectangles and circles are layered within a shallow picture plane. The tones of the carefully selected colours and shapes advance and recede within the space with calculated effect.
Alongside Grace Crowley and Frank Hinder, Balson was one of the first artists in Australia to devote himself solely to the pursuit of abstraction. From 1940, Balson’s works moved from semi-figurative cubist imagery to wholly abstract explorations of colour and form.
Balson’s interest in abstraction was influenced by the works and writings of European artists such as Mondrian and Moholy-Nagy as well as by the theories of French Cubist Albert Gleizes, which he encountered primarily through books and reproductions. Balson’s approach to painting was also inspired by ideas gleaned from science and mathematics, including Einstein’s theory of relativity. In an interview with Hazel de Berg in 1966, Crowley described Balson's dynamic abstract works as a ‘painter’s effort to express his wonder of this changing ever-expanding universe not in words nor by mathematics but through the medium he knew so well and had become part of himself; paint’.
Miriam Kelly, assistant curator, Australian Painting and Sculpture
in artonview, issue 65, autumn 2011 Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010