Australiana to Zeitgeist

ART + Books


Melissa Loughnan, founding director of Utopian Slumps in Melbourne, offers her own idiosyncratic list of who is hot right now in the Australian art scene. Her new book Australiana to Zeitgeist features 78 artists. Most of them are emerging or under-represented so this A–Z guide is bound to contain a few surprises for even the most experienced culture-vulture.

Read Amelia Winata’s interview with Melissa Loughnan here.

“A is for Australiana” turns the spotlight on Fergus Binns, Jon Campbell and Richard Lewer. The extract below is reprinted with permission.

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Jon Campbell, Dream Team, detail, (Captain Blood), 2012, enamel paint on plywood, 22 paintings, installation, 300 x 300 cm. Collection: Basil Sellers. Image courtesy the artist and Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney. Photograph: Mark Ashkanasay.

 A is for Australiana

Australiana is anything that references Australian culture or is native to Australia. It conjures up images of stereotypical objects and icons: Akubra hats and Driza-Bones, didgeridoos and boomerangs. Australian culture was the main source of inspiration for artists such as McCubbin and Nolan. The Australian landscape also inspired such artists as Albert Namatjira.(1) Decades later came Howard Arkley,(2) who focused on stereotypical images of urban Australia. Still a wealth of material remains in the stereotypes of Australiana that are ripe for our artists to appropriate today.

Iconic Australian artworks bring to mind earlier periods such as the Heidelberg School and the Angry Penguins. The Heidelberg School was a nineteenth century movement that is also referred to as Australian impressionism. It was the first movement to express the harshness of the Australian landscape, and includes such works as Frederick McCubbin’s The Pioneer and Tom Roberts’s Shearing the Rams. The Angry Penguins was an avant-garde movement of the 1940s that sought to bring modernist ideas to Australian art and literature. The Angry Penguin artists rebelled against the conservative art establishment of their era. Such works as Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series exemplify the movement.

Informed by our colonial history, Australia is a Commonwealth country whose ancestry shares a similar history to other western colonised countries. Yet our culture and landscape are different. With the increased ease of international travel, and the global art world accessible via the Internet, contemporary Australian artists are worldly, while also unique.

This uniqueness is due to a myriad of influences, from our Indigenous heritage to our British colonisation, and the cultures of our immigrants and refugees.


Australia is rich ground for the fertilisation of the practices of artists Fergus Binns, Jon Campbell and Richard Lewer. Their work suggests something of a ‘new Australiana’, forming an intellectual enquiry, critique or celebration of national identity and Australian culture today. Binns’s work mines clichéd notions of Australian life, as well as the work of iconic Australian artists throughout recent and not-so-recent history. Campbell’s paintings reflect on local vernacular, memory and association, while Lewer considers contemporary Australian society through stories informed by his experiences.

Australiana to Zeitgeist is available for purchase in all good bookstores and online from 

1. Albert Namatjira (1902–1959) was the first Aboriginal artist to adopt western painting methods, largely using watercolour, to depict the Australian landscape. He was the first Aboriginal person to be granted Australian citizenship, which entitled him to vote, and the first Aboriginal artist to win the Archibald Prize.

2. Howard Arkley (1951–1999) was known for his iconic airbrushed paintings of houses and suburban interiors. In 1969, after finishing school, Arkley studied at the Prahran College of Advanced Education. It was there that Fred Cress, an artist and lecturer, introduced him to the airbrush, which became his trademark.


Book Extract