Kaunas, Lithuania 1925 – Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 1979
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: prints, ink; paper screenprint, printed in black ink, from one stencil Support: white wove paper
Edition State: published state
Edition: edition of 12
My work from about 1955 I would say is going in two parallel directions all the time. One direction in my forms and my work is based on a landscape or nature ... where the thing is deriving from nature or environment. The second … is going where the elements and the forms are definitely free, non-objective, I would say, created completely without any connection with any environment or landscape or nature.
Henry Salkauskas made a major contribution to printmaking and watercolour in Australia. At the age of 15 he saw his father, a Lithuanian patriot, arrested by the Russians and taken to a concentration camp in Siberia, where he later died. Fleeing Lithuania with his mother, Salkauskas studied art in Freiburg, Germany, where he specialised in the graphic arts.
A post-war immigrant to Australia in 1949, Salkauskas worked in a stone quarry in Canberra, before settling in Sydney. It was there that he championed graphic arts in Australia. Together with other ‘new Australians’ he organised the First Australia-wide graphic art exhibition in 1960, for the Contemporary Art Societyof Australia (the Lithuanian Society of Sydney sponsoring a prize).
Salkauskas initially worked in wood and linocuts but, in 1958, was inspired to take up screenprinting. In 1963 his bold gestural screenprint, Serigraph, was awarded the Grand Prize at the Mirror Waratah Festival Art Competition, Sydney. The judge, Daniel Thomas, noted that this was the first time that a print had been awarded the prize in preference to a painting or sculpture. In the public’s eye it legitimised the print as a work of art in its own right.
The first works that Salkauskas produced in Australia were figurative, referring to physical and cultural dislocation, while later images were expressionist landscapes using symbolic references to the sun and seasonal change. He constantly simplified his images to create bold compositions with dense black forms, but these never lost their reference to nature to become completely abstract. He admired the work of the Abstract Expressionists such as Kline, Motherwell and Soulages, but his own art was more a product of his European heritage and personality than the direct influence of these artists.
Roger Butler and Anne Gray
1 Henry Salkauskas, interview with Hazel de Berg, 1962, Hazel de Berg Collection, National Library of Australia (transcript of sound recording [p.3]).
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