'Constructive painting' 1951
© Ralph Balson Estate
Constructive painting shows Balson's exquisite use of colour and mastery of subtle tonal values to achieve the appearance of luminous and transparent forms floating gently in a shallow space. Balson's sparing use of vivid orange and blue serves as a visual punctuation mark, bringing the viewer's attention back to the picture plane and stabilising the composition. Constructive painting expresses an aesthetic of calm and order, reflecting his belief in art's purpose: to reveal absolute and timeless truths.
In his 'Constructive Paintings' series, painted between 1940 and 1956, Balson pursued an idealised art based on a universal language of geometry, which rejected particulars of time and place and the artist's own subjective vision. Balson considered that the purposes of science and art were essentially similar, both seeking to discover inherent and fundamental laws of nature. In 1949, he was reported as stating that 'the source of true design is to be found in cosmic laws and that this truth offers a better basis for progress than any other.' (1)
In 1956, with the beginning of his 'Non-Objective Paintings' series, the serene geometry and stable order he expressed in the 'Constructive Paintings' would give way to a more fractured abstraction, images of universal flux, reflecting Balson's new understanding of the physical world according to Einstein's concept of relativity.
Painted in Sydney in 1951, Constructive painting contrasts with other Australian art of the time which tended towards romantic realism, heroic landscapes and nationalistic myth-making. One of the few artists who responded to Balson's work was the young sculptor Robert Klippel, who had recently returned from study in London and Paris. In 1952, Balson invited Klippel to share an exhibition with him. It is likely that Constructive painting was included in this show as it belonged to Klippel until acquired by the National Gallery in 1977.
(1) Herbert Badham, A Study of Australian Art, Sydney: Currawong Publishing Co., 1949, p.146.
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