Melbourne, Victoria, Australia born 1937

  • United Kingdom, Europe, United States 1971, 1977

Atlantis wall 1969 Place made: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, synthetic polymer paint on two canvases

Primary Insc: No inscriptions
Dimensions: 213.7 h x 427.4 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1979
Accession No: NGA 79.2546
  • Atlantis wall, despite its overt appearance of geometrical abstraction, also refers to the repetitive patterns of modern urban construction and industrial materials. The plastic or glass-brick walls seen in Melbourne’s buildings form a grid of seemingly identical forms, modulated only by the changing effects of light falling on the translucent units. The title refers to a commercial product, which the Atlantis Water Management company called a ‘cellular wall drainage system … perfect for underground car parks, basements, retaining walls, bridge abutments, civil structures’.1 It also has a more poetic resonance however, recalling an underwater kingdom, the city of Atlantis lost under the glass-green sea.

    The late 1960s was the time of Minimal Art and hard-edge or colour-field painting and, in 1967, both Melbourne and Sydney saw the hugely influential exhibition, Two Decades of American Painting. The American critic, Clement Greenberg, rejected any pictorial subject as suitable for abstract art, and lauded the flatness of pure painting. Dale Hickey’s immaculately smooth surface and crisp edges are part of this style, but the muted yet intense colour and equivocal subject deny the conventions of the day. As Margaret Plant pointed out, the artist had ‘an interest in motifs creating an illusionistic ambiguity, effecting a play between flat surfaces and the third dimension and in fact contradicting a straight abstract reading.’2

    Christine Dixon

    1Atlantis Water Management website at www.atlantiscorp.com.au/applications/wall_drainage.html

    2Margaret Plant Dale Hickey: A retrospective exhibition Ballarat: City of Ballarat Fine Art Gallery 1988 pp.1–2.

    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