This painting of a black woman by the English-Australian artist Tony Tuckson uses a language that references European modernism, but also suggests a regional challenge to conventional modes of representation. In his role as assistant to the director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales from 1950 to 1973, Tuckson was instrumental in the recognition and study of the art of aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the context of fine art rather than anthropology. In his own work, Tuckson’s later abstract expressionist works reflect influences from the traditions of mark-making in the art of people from Arnhem Land as part of their visual language. Black Woman, Half Length (1956), predates the artist’s detailed study of indigenous art, but does show an early interest in tactile mark-making, such as body painting.
In keeping with the artist’s background and training in England, this work shows the influence of European modernism. In the 1950s Tuckson undertook a number of studies based on the work of the fauve artist Henri Matisse (1869–1964) and the cubist Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), among others, but this painting shows a closer connection to the so-called art brut of Jean Dubuffet (1901–1985) and the intense textural abstraction of French tachisme. In essence, the surface of this painting becomes a psychological space, with mark-making as an emotional imprint rather than a descriptive rendering of the human body.
Tony Tuckson, a preeminent Australian artist and Abstract Expressionist, worked in pencil, charcoal, ink, watercolor, gouache, and mixed media. His emphasis on line and brushstrokes reflected his spontaneous and highly gestural approach. Tuckson studied painting at the Hornsey School of Art in London from 1937 to 1939, and at the Kingston School of Art, serving in the Royal Air Force from 1940 onward. When he was sent to Sydney in 1946, he pursued studies at the East Sydney Technical College for three years. In 1949 Tuckson was deeply impressed by an exhibition of aboriginal art from Arnhem Land from the collection of Ronald Berndt. After he became assistant director, then deputy director (1957), of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, he pioneered curatorial work in promoting and exhibiting Australian aboriginal and Melanesian art. Tuckson painted and drew his whole life and produced some 450 paintings and more than a thousand drawings. Although his work in later years was overshadowed by his museum career, he had two solo shows at Watters Gallery in East Sydney in 1970 and 1973.