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Robert JACKS

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1943 – 2014

  • Canada, USA 1968-78
  • UK 1987-88

House of circles 1959 Place made: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on composition board

Dimensions: 45.2 h x 49.3 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2016
Accession No: NGA 2016.59
  • Estate of Robert Jacks
  • In 1959, when he painted a series of prescient geometric abstractions at the age of sixteen, Robert Jacks foreshadowed a revolution in Australian painting that would happen nine years later and culminate in the historic exhibition The Field at the National Gallery of Victoria and Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1968. More so, he demonstrated an understanding and vision that would ordinarily be well beyond someone his age.

    He was still a student at Prahran Technical College, and yet these works clearly show the qualities of a prodigy. Painted in the same year of the singular exhibition Antipodeans at the Victorian Artists Society, which attempted to reassert the dominance of figuration in Australian art, these seminal abstract masterpieces distinctively show the persistent influence and power that abstraction was exerting on the younger generation of artists. Evident in them is an artist consciously working through the key tenets underpinning the philosophy of abstraction, which sought to locate the essence of things—geometry, shape, form and colour—rather than represent them.

    Jacks plays with the concept of the picture plane and with the materiality of his task as a painter and experiments with tone and balance, exploring the different effects of grey and cream circles against backgrounds ranging from ink black to soft grey. But it is not only the shape that preoccupies the paintings. The ideas and notions contained within the deceptively simple geometry of a circle—the depth, weight and parts of a circle—also find footing. These are ideas that absorbed artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, who saw a divine geometry in spheres and circles.

    The building blocks laid down in these works went on to serve Jacks throughout his career as an artist purely dedicated to the great creative adventure of abstraction in the twentieth century until his untimely death just weeks before the opening of his retrospective at the National Gallery of Victoria in 2014. They represent a seminal point not only in his development as an artist but also in the emergence of abstraction as a critical movement in Australian art.

    Lara Nicholls, Assistant Curator, Australian Painting and Sculpture

    in artonview, issue 86, Winter 2016