Bitouchov, Czechoslovakia 1926 – Adelaide, South Australia, Australia 1993

  • Australia 1948-54
  • Papua New Guinea 1954-59
  • Australia from 1959

My wife c.1952 Place made: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on plywood

Dimensions: 36.0 h x 29.0 w cm framed (overall) 532 h x 460 w x 50 d mm
Acknowledgement: Gift of James Agapitos OAM and Ray Wilson OAM 2007
Accession No: NGA 2007.875
Image rights: © The Estate of Dusan Marek
  • Dušan Marek and his brother immigrated to Australia in 1948 to escape the impending Russian takeover of Czechoslovakia. They took the long journey by sea on the SS Charlton Sovereign, with over one thousand other eastern European refugees. On board, Dušan Marek met a beautiful young woman named Helena Jakubova, originally from Prague. Dušan had joined Helena in reciting poetry into the sea spray on the bow of the ship; from that moment on they became inseparable companions.[1] On their arrival in Australia, the pair settled in Adelaide, which had been described to them as ‘the City of Churches’ and which they hoped would be reminiscent of Prague. They married in Adelaide in January 1951, shortly before departing for Tasmania and later moving to Sydney.

    My wife c 1952 is a striking portrait. While the woman depicted is unmistakably the attractive, fair-haired Helena Marek, she has undergone a Picasso-esque transfiguration of form. Her head floats atop thin black lines, reminiscent of her shoulders and torso, and her delicate features and luscious locks are smooth cubist blocks of bold flattened colour. Marek appears to have portrayed the movement of his wife’s face from profile to front views, capturing multiple luscious red lips but just a single, spectacular eye. This striking compositional choice might reflect the nature of the Mareks’ relationship. Helena was wife, lover, mother, critic, manager and muse. She told researcher Cheri Donaldson that when she commented on the small mouths and large eye, her husband retorted, ‘you appeared to see everything but say little’.[2]  Yet, just as she was everything to him, he was everything to her; My wife holds a very special place in the heart of Helena Marek.[3]

    This mirage of transfigured beauty alludes to Marek’s philosophy of making art, which, like his general approach to life, was governed by his desire to convey a world beyond the physical; to reveal what is seen in the mind’s eye and held in the subconscious.

    Marek’s Surrealism was deeply rooted in spirituality. In Adelaide, he had initially found supportive like-minded artists in Ivor Francis and Douglas Roberts—South Australian artists who had been at the fore of surrealist practice in the late 1930s to early 1940s. However, Marek’s works received criticism from the wider public, other artistic circles and the press. Regardless, Marek persevered with a wholehearted commitment to Surrealism throughout his life and career.

    Miriam Kelly

    [1] C Donaldson, ‘Deep and defiant: Dušan Marek; two European émigré artists in postwar (South) Australia’, MA Art History thesis, University of Adelaide, 2007, p 32.

    [2] Correspondence with Cheri Donaldson, 26 March 2010.

    [3] Donaldson, 26 March 2010.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Anne Gray Australian portraits 1880–1960 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010