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