South face 1985
acrylic on canvas
167.8 x 212.9 cm
Gift of Eva Besen AO and Marc Besen AO
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2008, TarraWarra Museum of Art collection
Contact TarraWarra Museum of ArtCopyright
Informed by a deep-seated humanistic impulse, over many years the prints, drawings and paintings of Latvian born artist Jan Senbergs have expressed a highly distinctive, imaginative response to his observations of the often uneasy relationships between the endeavours of humankind and the environment.
From his haunting Port Liardet series (1979-81) of industrial landscapes based on Port Melbourne and its history, to the destroyed mining region of Mt Lyell in Tasmania in the menacing Copperopolis series (1982-83), right through to his more recent densely mapped aerial perspectives of cities and coastlines, the dynamic and often discordant intersections between the man-made and the natural world have been a constant preoccupation for the artist.
The large scale painting South face (1985) is the result of a commission by Ray Marginson, then Chairman of the Melbourne Board of Works and Vice-Principal of the University of Melbourne, who invited Senbergs, along with Michael Shannon, Dale Hickey, Clifton Pugh and John Olsen, to paint the recently opened Thomson Dam in West Gippsland, Victoria. Constructed to hold a capacity four times greater than Melbourne’s next largest reservoir, this massive infrastructure project was designed to ‘drought proof’ the city’s water supply. By composing the work from an elevated perspective, Senbergs powerfully conveys the overwhelming scale of the dam which engulfs the entire canvas. The vigorous brush marks and sinuously carved lines express the sheer brutality by which this landscape has been disfigured by the heavy machinery in order to confine and control the flow of the river. Fellow artist Fred Williams once referred to Senbergs as an ‘industrial surrealist’, and, although perhaps not as pronounced in this work, the addition of an actual household tap emerging out of the painted concrete barrier of the dam wall, provides an unexpected jolt and a sardonic reminder for the viewer of our complicity in this monumental imposition on the landscape.