James Cant
'Objects in a landscape' 1936
Purchased 1995
© James Cant. Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia

After briefly attending several art schools in Sydney, James Cant went to London in 1934, where he stayed until the outbreak of war six years later. In 1935, the expatriate Australian painter Roy de Maistre introduced him to art dealer Fred Mayor, whose gallery showed works by such avant-garde artists as Ernst, Miró and Picasso. Cant was powerfully influenced by Surrealism, which came to prominence in British art circles with the great International Surrealist Exhibition in London in 1936, the year Cant joined the British Surrealist Group. This artists tried to delve into their subconscious minds, using odd juxtapositions and 'automatic' creative processes.

The kinetic elements, setting and style of Objects in a landscape demonstrate Cant's debt to the radical art of the day, and that of Miró in particular. The tethered balloon is a reference to Miró, as are the flat areas of colour and defined forms scattered over a schematised landscape. Cant's choice of colours reinforces the strangeness of the subject: acid pinks are contained within dark grey and black confines, against a background of lavender greys. The objects and shadows are anchored by a rich dark brown earth, which adds to the atmosphere of brooding desolation.

The shapes derived from dry bone and driftwood, the spliced string anchoring a lifebuoy shape and the concept of the image as a series of objects conforming to the laws of gravity and balance, indicate the influence of pure British Surrealism. (1)

Objects in a landscape is a theatrical work, a stage where human and natural detritus play out their own drama of connection and disconnection.

Christine Dixon

(1) Adapted from Mary Eagle, National Gallery of Australia Acquisition Submission, 1995.

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

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