Ochiltree, Linlithgow, Scotland 1890 – Melbourne, Australia 1974
A narrow street c1940 Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on primed plywood
In A narrow street, William Frater depicted the kind of laneway that can be found in the inner suburbs of most Australian towns and cities: a back street with rickety fences, rampant creepers, ramshackle sheds and a few children playing. It has a matter-of-factness, without the kind of stories or myths found in the art of other Australian artists at this time. Unlike the social realist Yosl Bergner, Frater was not interested in showing the unhappy life of inner city dwellers and, unlike Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker, he did not portray images of city evil. Rather, he presented different vision of the Australian streets, and a world aloof from the war in Europe. He captured a sense of suspense in the quiet stillness of place and an atmosphere of brooding heat, with a strong glare infusing the scene.
Frater, together with Arnold Shore and George Bell, played an important role in increasing the understanding of Modernism in Melbourne between the wars. He was a prolific artist, painting exuberant images with strong underlying structures. From Cézanne and his contemporaries he inherited a concern for the picture plane: for the energetic marks of the brush on the surface of the board, for the tactile qualities of paint, for the building up of volume by planes and for the representation of space through colour.
In addition to country lanes and rural scenes, Frater painted some memorable portraits and depicted Central Australia and the Aboriginal people. Around 1955 he painted a Corroboree series, orchestrating the figures in the landscape in the fashion of Cézanne’s well-known images of bathers. His best work is emotional, based on a deep response to the world around him, mixed with an element of analysis, a feeling for paint, form, tone and colour.
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