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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Elizabeth Durack

Broome Madonna, 1946, Elizabeth Durack
Artists, and especially writers, have been using nom de plumes (sometimes referred to as "pen names") for centuries. As women became more prominent in the literary arts during the 18th and 19th-centuries in Europe, they would sometimes choose male pen names to disguise their gender, knowing that their work would not be as well accepted if it were known to be that of a woman. Picasso chose to go by his mother's maiden name rather than the father's name of Ruiz. Sometimes the name change was simply a matter of simplifying an overly complex family name or, during times of anti-Semitism, making a name sound less Jewish.
Windgrass, 1961, Elizabeth Durack
None of these factors had to do with the Australian painter, Elizabeth Durack becoming Eddie Burrup. In her case, she considered Eddie to be her "alter-ego." In essence, she had painted Aboriginal figures so long, she considered her work to, in fact, be Aboriginal and therefore in need of an Aboriginal name. (Writers frequently do this when they switch genres.) In January 1996, Eddie Burrup was invited to participate in Native Titled Now exhibition, at the Adelaide Festival of Arts Event presented by the Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute. Later in the year works by Eddie Burrup were selected for the Telstra 13th National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin. The work of Eddie Burrup was praised by critics for its cultural originality.

Genesis Diptych 2, 1997, Elizabeth Durack as Eddie Burrup
Then, in 1997, Elizabeth Durack disclosed that Burrup was her pseudonym, an identity she considered her "alter ego." Controversy ensued, in partly because her works had been included in Indigenous Australian art exhibitions. Moreover the real reason was that art critics don't like to be made fools of. Also the pseudonym was not appreciated by other Aboriginal artists nor the gallery owner who represented "Burrup". Reactions from the art world and the public varied widely. Some censured Elizabeth Durack and dismissed Burrup paintings that they previously had been acclaimed. Three works by Eddie Burrup from the "Native Titled Now" show were removed from the walls of the Gippsland Art Gallery in Sale, Victoria. Durack was accused by Aboriginal artists of "stealing" their culture.

Fifty years of Australian art.
Elizabeth Durack was the third of six children born to Michael Patrick Durack and Bess Ida Muriel. Born in the Perth suburb of Claremont in 1915, she was the younger sister of writer and historian, Dame Mary Durack. The two were educated at the Loreto Convent in Perth with Elizabeth later studied at the Chelsea Polytechnic, London. Although her art training was British, Durack spent much of her life in remote parts of north and central Western Australia, far from the metropolitan centers of mainstream artistic activity. She received stimulus and inspiration from sources quite different from those of her contemporaries. Separated by both geography and gender, her talent emerged as an adaptation, to a particularly harsh environment.

The Dregs of the Day, 1964, Elizabeth Durack
The "melted image" or tachiste paintings by Elizabeth Durack (above) are a continuation and development of the theme in which human beings and the environment interact—a deeper and harder way of looking at man and nature. Over a long productive life the art of Elizabeth Durack evolved from simple line drawings, through lyrical watercolors, to partly abstract allegorical paintings. Unlike that of many artists, Durack’s work reached its peak towards the end of her life. She died in May of 2000 at the age of eighty-five. The work of her last creative phase—The Art of Eddie Burrup—which ironically transcends all that went before.

Kookanoo and Kangaroo cover, 1963, Elizabeth Durack.
Singapore Sheraton under construction,
1973, Elizabeth Durack


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