The New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM) opened two important exhibitions late last month. Salient: Contemporary artists at the Western Front displays moving artworks by a dozen leading Australian artists that express the senselessness of war, while New England High Country: Forty Photographers exhibits images of regional life, landscapes and people. Both run until Saturday, June 3.
Over the next two months we will bring you interviews with the artists, commenting on their work.
Sydney-based artist Amanda Penrose Hart won the Gallipoli Art Prize in 2017 for The Sphinx, Perpetual Peace, painted for Salient’s predecessor Your Friend the Enemy, when many of the same artists went to Turkey to commemorate the centenary of the ill-fated campaign. The work is now in the permanent Gallipoli Art Prize collection, while her diptych Gallipoli Peninsula is at the Australian Parliament House, Canberra.
Penrose Hart painted the places where her grandfather fought and died: Messines Ridge, the Somme, and Mouquet Farm.
The sad thing about him, she said, was that he’d only recently come to Australia from Europe before he returned to fight.
“It seems like an exhausting waste of time to then go all the way back over, and fight for your mother country, and then die.”
One of seven children, he moved with his family from England to Brisbane in 1911. He volunteered to fight, went back to Europe by boat, and was sent to the Western Front in 1915, where he was killed in 1917. He is one of more than 54,000 soldiers whose names are inscribed on the Menin Gate, the war memorial at Ypres, Belgium.
“He was only 21, just turned 21,” she said. “There would be thousands of boys, really, who died, aren’t important, don’t get medals, and they’re just a name on those walls. So it was a nice personal journey for me to go the Western Front.”
She spent a day in the field at Mouquet Farm where, according to the Red Cross records, he died.
“There’s a lot of war dead there, and it was quite pretty. They have canola growing everywhere, and potato farms at the back. It’s just a working farm now – but it’s solid with bodies that were never retrieved.”