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The power and the anger of Tucker’s imagination in the war years is seen in Victory girls, painted in 1943 in Melbourne. After being conscripted into the army in April 1942, he was employed as an artist at the Heidelberg Military Hospital to illustrate the injuries of soldiers awaiting plastic surgery. Tucker left the army in October 1942, still concerned about social issues such as poverty and injustice but even less convinced that the Social Realist style adopted by Communist artists was aesthetically and intellectually satisfying.

Like his avant-garde peers Tucker was familiar with modernist European art. He was particularly struck by the savage commentary of the German artists George Grosz, Otto Dix and Max Beckmann. They drew on the boldness, even crudeness of Expressionism, combining its direct style with social and political subject matter.

The heads of the two teenage prostitutes are reduced to schematised features: blonde hair, mascaraed eyelashes, piggy nostrils, and a gash of red lipsticked crescent mouth. Similarly their bodies consist only of Picasso-like breasts and ribs above flaring striped skirts. The irony of the patriotic colours and American motif is glaring in this morality tale of sexual corruption and social decay.

The two soldiers are Australians rather than GI’s, as their slouch hats make plain, but have become bestial rather than human. They are the embodiment of grasping lust, complicit with the sexually predatory girls.  Tucker said: ‘All these schoolgirls from 14 tp 15 would rush home after scholl and… go tarting along St Kilda Road with the GIs… the crescent seemed to embody the virulent and primal sexuality which had been released in the blackout.’1

Tucker’s manner of painting emphasises the immediacy and passion of his response to the situation. He uses bold, broad strokes for the essential forms – the reaching arms and hands of the diggers, the simple stripes of the skirt and teeth, the violence of the red mouths.

Christine Dixon

1James Mollison and Nicholas Bonham, Albert Tucker, Melbourne: Macmillan, 1982, pp.37-38.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010

From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002

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