Riga, Latvia born 1939

  • Australia from 1950
  • England, Europe 1966-67
  • United States 1989-90

Antarctic night 1989 Materials & Technique: paintings, synthetic polymer paint and collage on canvas

Primary Insc: signed and dated l.r., oil "J.senbergs '89"
Dimensions: 202.0 h x 292.0 w cm framed (overall) 2160 h x 2920 w x 45 d mm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1990
Accession No: NGA 90.1213
Image rights: © Jan Senbergs. Licensed by Viscopy
  • The painting Antarctic night is a result of my journey to Antarctica in 1987 [at the invitation of the Artists in Antarctica Program] with the Antarctic Division on their re-supply voyage aboard the M.V.Icebird.

    As in previous settlements in history, in Antarctica we are again squatting on the edge of yet another continent and bringing our cultural baggage with us. Already there is a sense of history there: architectural, social and visual. This painting shows an aspect of this ‘historical sequence’ in the decorations in the huts and workshops across the bases.

    In a ‘cut-away’ view, it shows the interior of a winterer’s hut with its walls covered in a ‘tapestry’ of pin-up images – from the earliest ‘pin-up’, the Venus of Willendorf, to the Playboy centrefolds of the 1950s and 1960s, through to the Penthouse models of the 1970s and beyond. The more you saw of it, the more it seemed like an Antarctic Pop Art movement – not unlike the New York Pop Art of the 1960s and 1970s – except certainly not cool like Andy Warhol …

    However, as happens with all art movements, it also began to wane in the 1980s when more women came to Antarctica and created a more rounded atmosphere and society.

    The painting in this context attempts to show an aspect of an Antarctic winterer’s existence through the long and dark nights of close-quarter living in extreme isolation. As with a lot of my other work, it is meant as a detached statement of observation: an empty stage, where the actors have left, but you know what happened …

    Jan Senbergs 2002

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002