Important Australian + International Fine Art
29 August 2007


(1920 - 1999)

oil on composition board

103.0 x 126.0 cm

signed and dated lower right: John Brack 62
signed, dated and inscribed with title verso: "THE ROOFS OF BURWOOD" - CROUCH PRIZE 1962 - JOHN BRACK

$350,000 - 450,000

Private collection, Melbourne


Millar, R., John Brack, Lansdowne Press Pty Ltd, Melbourne, 1971, p.108
Lindsay, R., John Brack: A Retrospective Exhibition, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1987, p.122
Grishin, S., The Art of John Brack, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1990, vol.II, Catalogue raissoné, p.18, p.128, p.120 (illus.)

Catalogue text

John Brack produced only seven paintings during 1962. The Roofs of Burwood was his most minimalist; Union Road provided a roof top view of his own suburb of Surrey Hills; and John Perceval and his Angels was later purchased by the National Gallery of Victoria. His appointment as Head of the National Gallery School, which he transformed into one of Australia's leading art schools, was the reason for this smaller output. Nevertheless, that same year of 1962 Brack was represented in the London exhibition, Commonwealth Art Today and Four Arts in Australia, touring South-east Asia. In subject, The Roofs of Burwood followed those earlier suburban interests as in the watercolour Segment of a Suburb (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra) and other paintings of the previous year, especially View of an Outer Suburb.1 Like our painting, it is taken from a high viewpoint, being close in concept and of the same location as this painting on offer. Brack's arms length view of suburbia is in itself a metaphor of his objectivity, the subject often being the starting point for an exploration of an aspect of aesthetics and style in what Grishin described as 'a greater questioning of the whole process of painting and its visual interpretation.' In particular, Grishin noted Brack's preoccupation with 'different levels of visual ambiguity in a painting and if it was possible to separate and reassemble them then the work could operate on a number of different levels of meaning and perception.'2 His explorations were noted as early as 1960, Brisbane critic Gertrude Langer remarking that 'in a number of paintings Brack has moved now towards almost total abstraction.'3 In The Roofs of Burwood Brack carried his vision of suburban satire over into the field of minimalism. His friend Fred Williams was also working in a minimalist style at this time as seen in his Sapling Forest series of 1961 and the You Yangs paintings of 1963. Both explored the aesthetics of the seemingly monotonous, so characteristic an aspect of the Australian landscape and suburbanscape. Brack painted very few landscapes, intentionally choosing the suburbanscape in direct opposition to the hackneyed transcript of rural beauty. To him the suburbs were soulless things. In The Roofs of Burwood Brack's subject is the urban sprawl continuing its relentless advance into the semi-rural. Nature resists, like a great wave of the sea, washing against the brick and tiled encroachment. The point is pressed home in the painterly movement of the landscape, the other, in an ironic reversal, static. The open sky and vastness of the heavens above continues Brack's vision of emptiness, a devastating metaphor of Melbourne suburban life. The evocation of the sublime and man the infinitesimal provides a pointed touch of irony.

1. In 1964 Brack was commissioned to design the sets and costumes for the Australian Ballet's Roundelay. The backdrop was again the high viewpoint of suburbia.
2. Grishin, op.cit, vol.I, p.87
3. Langer, G., 'A painter with a taste for satire', Courier Mail, Brisbane, 26 April 1960, quoted in Grishin, op. cit, p.86