Ah, What is Man (That you Should be Mindful of Him?) 1987
oil on canvas
122 x 90 cm
inscribed verso: John Coburn / Ah, What is Man (That you Should be Mindful of Him?) / (oil) 1987 Provenance: The Artist
Exhibited: Mandorla Art Prize, October 1987 Macquarie Galleries, Sydney 8-26 November 1988, cat. no. 8 (label affixed verso)
Coburn was always interested in religious subjects and painted the spiritual in many forms throughout his career. He entered numerous awards for religious art and was the recipient of numerous coveted awards including the 1960 and 1977 Blake Prize, the 1963 Mirabooka Prize and the 1996 Mandorla Prize. The Mandorla Prize was established in Western Australia in 1985 with the annual theme set around biblical texts. In 1987 the theme was ‘The Glory of God and Dignity of Man’ from Psalm 8 verses 3-4. The present painting entered that year Ah What is Man (That you Should be Mindful of Him?) 1987 addresses that question to God from insignificant Man.
As Nadine Amadio writes, Ah, What is Man, ‘is like a radiant stained glass window drenched in vibrant colour. The dynamic figure of Mankind is still, however, very much a symbol surrounded by symbolic shapes. The colour brings it into that mythical realm evoked by the great stained glass windows both ancient and modern. It is a world where static figures are given life and passion by the streams of light passing through them, as if through a transformer.’1
Undoubtedly his first figurative painting in over thirty years, Coburn submitted this work to the Mandorla Art Prize in October 1987. It inspired a series of drawings and paintings on the subject that would return him briefly to figuration for the next two years.
Gordon Bennett, 1987, The Coming of the Light. Synthetic polymer paint on canvas. (a-b) 152.0 x 374.0 cm (overall)
Bennett’s art explores and reflects his personal experiences. Among these is the harrowing struggle for identity that ensued from the repression and denial of his Aboriginal heritage. He acknowledges that much of his work is autobiographical, but he emphasises that there is conceptual distance involved in his art making.
Burke at Cooper’s Creek by Sidney Nolan, 1950. Nolan painted a lot of natural landscapes in his native Australia, including many images of the rural outback. He also created a series based on the Irish-Australian bushranger Ned Kelly, who was convicted of murder and hung to death in 1880. I will be posting these soon!