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Margaret PrestonEssay

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¶ … Margaret Preston aim to modernise Australian culture?

Margaret Preston

MARGARET PRESTON: Aim to Modernise Australian Culture

Margaret Rose McPherson was first introduced to the world of art at age 12. Today, she is known to the world as Margaret Preston, one of Australia's most celebrated women artists, particularly for her work in the 1940s and 1950s. Her artwork was both bold and beautiful, as was her personality, which was described as being assertive and outgoing. Margaret Preston broke through many barriers in her day. She was a self-made artist who became well-known not just throughout Australia, but also throughout the world. This essay will describe some of Preston's beliefs, as well as specific pieces of her work and how Preston modernised Aboriginal art in Australia. She broke ground for women in her time and implemented unusual techniques that she both designed and studied from around the world.

Preston was extremely influential throughout her life and many have learned from the work she left behind. Her innovative art concepts were both unique and interesting, especially for a woman in the early 1920s. Preston travelled throughout Europe and also studied Japanese art. Both her studies and location seemed to play a huge role in the artwork she produced.

This essay will discuss some of Preston's point-of-view on art, as well as go over some of her artwork, and how Preston incorporated Aboriginal art and design into her own work. This aspect made her extremely innovative and unique to her generation.

"It has been said that modern art is international. But as long as human nature remains human every country has its national traits. It is important for a great nation to make a cultural stand. My wish is to see a combined attempt by our artists to give us an art that no other country in the world can produce" (Preston, 1953).

Background Information on Margaret Preston

Margaret Preston spent her life studying art throughout the world. She travelled and studied in schools throughout Australia, Munich, Paris and England. Preston did not marry until she was in her 40s, so she spent much of her life single and independent. She is well-known for her wood and linoblock prints, but she initially started out as a landscape artist. Preston was expected to paint nudes in some of her training, but is said to have disliked doing this, preferring instead to paint still life landscapes and scenes.

Margaret Preston was a very influential art teacher and student. She took on many private students and was famous for her studying with Cezanne, Gauguin, Matisse, Picasso, Kandinsky, Delauney, Derain, Vlaminck and Roualt. Preston's studies in Parison would prove to be very influential to her career. During her travels to Europe, she would also venture to Spain, Italy and Holland. She would very briefly study at the Government Art School for Women in Munich. At that time, Preston did not relate well to the current teaching and trends in Germany, so this time in her life would not prove to be a positive experience.

Preston would implement the concept of decoration without ornamentation throughout her work. She would be famous for this later in life. Eventually, Preston adopted cubist principles into her work. This would greatly influence her work overall. It gave her analytical and problem-solving approach to her designs. Simplified pictorial space and elements would become the hallmark of much of her work.

Throughout her life and working career, Preston also studied Japanese art in great detail. Her work in the early 1920s would reflect decorative and stylistic modernism, which had become quite popular amongst Australian culture at the time. Women's magazines during that time allowed Preston to capitalize her work.

Art Styles and Controversy

"In wishing to rid myself of the mannerisms of a country other than my own I have gone to the art of a people who had never seen or known anything different from themselves. These are the Australian Aboriginals and it is only from the art of such people in any land that a national art can spring" (Preston, 1925).

The artwork of Margaret Preston was very different than other art created during her time. All these years later, no artist has managed to capture or duplicate Preston's work or her exact techniques. Preston very much defined her art style and her travels had a very profound effect on the work she produced and is famous for. Stylistic flat blocks of colour, use of light without shadows and asymmetry are techniques, which emerged throughout Preston's work. Most of this occurred while she studied and surrounded herself with French-Post Impressionists.

During her travels to Asia, Preston discovered an interest in Chinese landscape painters. She developed an interest for use of colour pencils in her final years, and she found intrigue in the ancient art of cutting out shapes and then re-using them to print on another surface. In the final years of her life and work, Preston used her knowledge of natural art to reflect on future and past Australia. Preston implemented Aboriginal symbols and motifs in combination with rich, earthy tones in her pieces. Rough-surfaced masonite was used to create Preston's later prints. Painting directly on the masonite before printing created a new technique, which Preston implemented in much of her art.

The Aeroplane (1925) was one of Preston's first works, which explored symbols of modernity. In this piece, she fused together Aboriginal forms and rhythms with a modern image. The technique she used was woodcut, printed in black ink, from one block; hand-coloured impression: undersigned impression. This piece of artwork falls under no known or specific edition and is hand-coloured.

In looking at some of Preston's work, one might look at Shoalhaven Gorge (1953) was produced when Preston was 78-years-old. The technique used was stencil, printed colour (one from hand-cut paper stencil). Some believe this piece of work represents one of Preston's most successful attempts to synthesise the two techniques (using the stencil process associated with Chinese art and with Aboriginal art).

Preston was, for the most part, a still-life artist, but at the time when her artwork and style was renowned internationally, she proposed a "national" art work Australia based on Aboriginal artwork and techniques. In Flying Over Shoalhaven River (1942) and Aboriginal Landscape (1941), Preston began to reduce her palette to earth-tone colours surrounded by simplified forms with black lines; all based on Aboriginal art techniques.

Why Was Preston's Art So Important?

"I'm personally aiming at the simplification of all forms and to express the monumental form and dry colour of Australian landscapes. I wish to continue the basic work of the Aborigines. What I am after in my work is to give the national, spiritual and characteristic features of this country" (Preston, 1945).

Most of Preston's artwork has been exhibited and discussed since her death. This is not uncommon amongst artists. Margaret Preston was influential and important to Australia's art because during her life, Preston was a pioneer of art throughout Australia and for women throughout the world. Previously, the art world had been dominated by men and Preston broke through that stereotype and became internationally known. In 1929, Preston became the first woman artist to be commissioned by the Art Gallery of New South Wales to paint a self-portrait, and in 1937, Preston won a silver medal at the Paris International Exhibition.

Furthermore, Preston published what was described at the time as a modernist feminist autobiographical essay, entitled, From Eggs to Electrolux. Her art was very significant to the Aboriginal people, because she incorporate Aboriginal icons into her work. Some of Preston's Aboriginal-inspired work is considered to be insensitive and exploitive, but many also believe it to have a positive influence.

Margaret Preston was not the first artist to utilize Aboriginal symbols, but Preston's art forced Australian society to face an important part of their culture: Aboriginal culture. Before that time, their beliefs had been dismissed by the white Australian society. Preston's artwork is extremely important to Australian society, regardless of whether or not someone likes what they see. At that time, Australia was searching for a true identity and Preston joined in on this discovery. Preston is best described as an aggressive and temperamental individual, but she definitely had a keen eye for her artwork and implored a great deal of what she learned in her studies from many cultures into the art she created.

Conclusion

Today, Preston is considered to be a pioneer in Australian art. She is a leading example of early Australian modernism, drawing on the cultural influences she found throughout the world. Her work was bold and colourful and she preferred to work with still life images (painting and print). She is best known for her work depicting native Australian flowers.

Many of her modernised ideas stemmed from her travels throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa the Pacific Islands, Asia and throughout Australia. Preston did not have children and married later in life, so she was able to dedicate… [END OF PREVIEW]

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