Wednesday 8 May 2013

Dickerson and Blackman

I’m looking at two paintings, hung side by side – Robert Dickerson’s “Wynyard Station”, undated but around early 1950s, and Charles Blackman’s “Street Scene”, 1960.

Charles Blackman, Street Scene, 1960, oil on masonite, Collection: Art Gallery of Ballarat, The William, Rene and Blair Ritchie Collection. Bequest of Blair Ritchie, 1998 © The artist

There are clearly similarities between the two paintings, similarities of construction particularly, but there are also differences, in fact contrasts.

Five figures in each, but in the Blackman the rather fashionable ladies are unconnected to each other; in the Dickerson his working-class people (or four of them) are huddled together defensively looking out at the passers-by.

I decided at some stage to write a single poem about the two, making the contrasts. But before I come to that, the Dickerson subjects reminded me of the “displaced persons” of my youth, just after the end of World War 2, the refugees from war-torn Europe.

 Robert Dickerson, Wynyard Station, not dated, oil on hardboard, Collection: Art Gallery of Ballarat, Purchased, 1960 ©The artist

Here’s the resultant poem.

DPs – 1950s

(After contemplating Bob Dickerson’s “Wynyard Station”, 1950s)

Displaced persons they were called, DPs
and we felt sorry for them
but they were, well, different
you wouldn’t expect your sister
to bring one home
or dad would have had a fit
we lived in a decent suburb they
were cramped in inner-city streets
in houses a couple of paces across
and hardly room for a dunny out the back.
We’d see them on summer evenings
as we drove through sometimes
sitting out on the footpath for god’s sake
some sort of crazy continental idea
before they went back in for their
spaghetti and garlic
                                                sitting drinking top shelf stuff
they probably made themselves out in the washhouse
look at them

having a hell of a time of it.

On this theme it will be interesting to have a look, at a later date, at Yvonne Audette’s 1955 painting, “Refugees”.

Meanwhile, here is the ‘pair of paintings’ poem, as it stands at the moment. Notice that I felt, in paintings like these, that it was interesting to put yourself in the place of the artist, that is, in the eye of the observer.

A Pair of Paintings

(Robert Dickerson Wynyard Station, c. 1950
Charles Blackman Street Scene, 1960)

Together on a wall, five figures in each one
but so different. Makes you wonder
where the artist is in each painting

in the street scene here he is (you might think)
behind a shop window
                                                            looking through
at five fashionable ladies fashionably
apart each in her own preoccupation
of variously sadness, confidence, contemplation,
concern and misty resignation
two sharp faces closer to the imagined glass then
a fading face, a faded face, the back
of a head . . .
                                                            in Wynyard Station
they sit, working class folk, four of them
huddled together like wood swallows
looking or not looking at the artist
who is walking past and catching
a glimpse, caught in the act of
catching a glimpse – What’re
you looking at? That other bloke
walking away he stared at us too!

The ladies in the street don’t care
one way or the other even when hands
reach out they don’t reach out to touch

the working people are refugees
from all that they just want to get home
to where no one is going to ask any more questions.

-Barry Breen Mar 2013

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