Auburn, Victoria, Australia 1904 – Geelong, Victoria, Australia 1982

Kamiri searchlight. 1945 Place made: Geelvink Bay, Papua New Guinea
Materials & Technique: drawings, watercolours, gouache; ink; paper; watercolour painting in watercolour, gouache and black ink Support: cream paper mounted on cardboard
Manufacturer's Mark: no manufacturer's mark

Primary Insc: Signed, dated and inscribed verso upper right in pen and black ink 'Eric Thake 1945 / 3/11 Heather Grove / Kew Victoria 3101 / 80.4506'. Titled verso upper left in pen and black ink, 'Kamiri searchlight'.
Secondary Insc: Inscribed verso lower left in ink, 'Direct painting / on Kamiri Beach / Noemfor Island / Geelvink Bay / N.W. New Guinea / Feb 1945'.
Tertiary Insc: no inscriptions.
Dimensions: image 40.0 h x 51.6 w cm sheet 40.0 h x 51.6 w cm backing 46.6 h x 58.2 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1973
Accession No: NGA 73.19
Subject: War: second world war, 1939-1945 Australia, Art style: Surrealism
  • Purchased by the Acquisition Committee [Australian National Gallery], from the artist, Melbourne, 1973.
  • Eric Thake was an outstanding draughtsman. His interest in drawing developed as a boy and was refined throughout his training and career as a commercial artist. Although Thake studied with George Bell in Melbourne during the 1930s, his interest in the so-called ‘fine art field’ was mostly allocated to his spare time.

    Thake never really saw himself as a Surrealist, yet much of his work, including Kamiri searchlight, has a surreal quality. He was particularly fascinated by the work of the English artist Edward Wadsworth, who delighted in placing unusual subjects in strange surroundings. Like Wadsworth, Thake too enjoyed the possibilities this allowed him to instil humour and wit in his art.

    Design was also a critical element in Thake’s work and he would spend much time sifting out, refining and rearranging his subject and composition until he came to a simplified form that would at first sight appear to be spontaneous.

    Kamiri searchlight was painted on Numfoor Island, off Western New Guinea (Irian Jaya)towards the end of the Second World War, while Thake was on service as a war artist. Often he would seek out the detritus of war – wrecked buildings and aircraft and the everyday tools of war, such as this searchlight belonging to the  American 16th Anti-aircraft battery at the Kamiri Airstrip. The inverted reflection of the searchlight’s support structure and of Thake drawing on the airstrip create an unfamiliar and curious view of the world.

    Anne McDonald

    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