Tram kaleidoscope 1948 signed and dated 'F.C. HINDER / -48' lower right tempera on hardboard 117.1 x 89.0cm (46 1/8 x 35 1/16in).
PROVENANCE Dr Salek Minc, Perth, 1948 Bryant McDiven, York, Western Australia, 1988 Martin Browne Fine Art, Sydney The Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy Collection, acquired in 1990
EXHIBITED Sulman Prize 1948, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 22 January - 7 March 1949, cat. no. 11 Balson, Crowley, Fizelle, Hinder, touring exhibition, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 5-30 October 1966; Newcastle City Art Gallery, Newcastle, 9 November - 11 December 1966, cat. no.68 Frank and Margel Hinder Retrospective, Newcastle City Art Gallery, Newcastle, 30 August 30 September 1973, cat. no. 22 Frank and Margel Hinder, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 12 June - 13 July 1980, cat. no. 106 (label attached verso)
LITERATURE Daniel Thomas, Balson Crowley Fizelle Hinder, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1966, p. 17 David Thomas, Frank and Margel Hinder: retrospective, Newcastle Region Art Gallery, Newcastle, 1977 Renée Free, Frank and Margel Hinder, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1980, p. 21, p. 50 (illus.) Renée Free, John Henshaw, Frank Hinder, The Art of Frank Hinder, Phillip Mathews, Sydney, 2011, pp. 115-116 (illus.)
This rare example of Sydney modernism combines aspects of Cubism, Futurism, and Orphism in its multiplicity. After studying Seurat's divisionist painting La Grande Jatte in Chicago in 1928, and Dynamic Symmetry in New York, 1929-34, Hinder joined Grace Crowley and Ralph Balson in the creation of Sydney Modernism. Hinder believed the subject of art was truth and its purpose to make visible discoveries in science and philosophy, for example the dematerialisation of matter, the division of light into its spectrum. By the outbreak of war Hinder had produced complex scenes that typified outdoor Australian life: Dog Gymkhana, Fishermen hauling nets and P&O liner leaving the Quay.
Tram kaleidoscope, too, was a finished conception in 1939, as evinced by preparatory studies, mostly in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, including the airy watercolour study and the drawings illustrated here. A small tempera of the final composition with slight variations and dark blue night outside is in Newcastle Art Gallery. A horizontal study is in the Art Gallery of Western Australia. The creative effort involved in Hinder's tempera paintings means these are comparative rarities in his oeuvre. War service in camouflage meant postponing this exceptionally large painting until 1948. City streets teeming with peak hour crowds, trams, and cars was explored more easily in his many lithographs, 1939 and 1946. Hinder viewed the city as an organism - its transport systems and workers important parts of the whole. Tram travel peaked in Sydney in 1945. Robert Merchant of the Sydney Tramway Museum explains (in emails): "It would appear that Tram kaleidoscope (1948) is a view facing forward from inside the second tram of a coupled set of two O class trams going around a curve to the right. .. My guess is the tram is turning from Liverpool Street into Elizabeth Street, bound for Circular Quay. A city-bound tram would account for the passenger load, including standing passengers. ... The painting is from the second tram and the viewer is facing forward ... possibly a standing passenger."
A kaleidoscope, according to Wikipedia, "is a cylinder with mirrors containing loose, colored objects such as beads or pebbles and bits of glass. As the viewer looks into one end, light entering the other creates a colorful pattern, due to the reflection off of the mirrors." Hinder's tram too is a cylinder with abstracted heads, hats, wheels, mudguards replacing the beads in breaking up rays. The crossbench 'toast-rack' tram had multiple doorway sources of light and the painting embodies the more general meaning of kaleidoscope. Hinder has written: "My work in camouflage during the war was connected with light, colour, tone, shadows, optical effects and illusions and so on - all for a very different purpose but nevertheless related to problems which concern the artist."
The effect of street penetrating tram through reflections brings in notions of simultaneity, interpenetration, space-time, duration, and inevitably conjures up the opposite, seclusion from outside. There is breaking up and recombining of forms, division of light, but confusion is ordered. The poetic repetition of forms unify the fragmentation. As with Dog Gymkhana viewed through a raindrop, the idea here is to embrace the total experience at a particular moment of the day - a characteristic but unrepeatable moment in an endless stream of time. The tram travelling on its determined grooves carries workers passively on their daily grooves. Angled mirrors at 60 degrees in kaleidoscopes are perhaps suggested by the angled V of the foreshortened tram structure, and the central area of interpenetration. A thumbnail sketch under a drawing labelled Planes in and around (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra ) shows the structure, the two wings of light branching out on either side of the central tram shaft with its arched ceiling. The space widens to the foreground, figures larger close up.The eye is drawn back to two standing men holding on to horizontal wooden handrails in different rows of the tram. The arms crossed and different in colour lead us to reconstruct the second man in the confusion of reflections, His hat perhaps reflects trees in Hyde Park. Balancing their heads are two blank vehicle windows, like eye-sockets misplaced from the passengers, communicating with the viewer/artist and creating the tram's depth. The coupled front section of the tram looks equally like another penetrating reflection, the empty door openings linking with the empty windows. Outside in front of the right-hand building, a group of people wait to cross.
The figures here are not robots or puppets, but commuters, well-dressed middle-class professionals. Hinder was teaching art at East Sydney Technical College and this sometimes could have been his route home. The seated passengers are pressed together, but suggest the constant movement of tram travel - shuffling, pushing, bumping, brushing. Each person is seen in multiple angles, occupying each others' spaces - everything affecting everything else. A man turns to look outside or is he speaking to a dissolved person whose nose and mouth are being replaced by wheel and mudguard, and whose hat brim continues the direction of the disembodied blue car traversing the tram's space? An early drawing illustrated here (157.1980) gives the sense of shifting movement. The man lower left has two nose directions, his companion two chins. In the next rows figures seated facing each other overlap. Jolting requires the standing figures - there are three hands on the rail - to hold on at an angle. The delicate silvery shimmering light enfolds figures and penetrating trucks harmoniously, without Futurist shock.
Tram kaleidoscope does not have the oppressive message of the Wynyard series which unfolds underground. A related tram subject is of an underground tram heading for the terminus in Wynyard Subway. However, in Tram kaleidoscope there is opalescent daylight outside. Just as there is a balance of style between the prewar 1939 conception with orange-green palette, and the postwar 1948 execution which introduces blue and violet, there is a balancing of meaning in this painting. Its optimistic birth has prevented it becoming a painting of imprisonment. It is rather an ambitious statement of the rational orderly daily working of society, discomfort a necessary part of making the social contract work.The final pen outline drawing (156.1980) shows both the clarity of Hinder's conception and how much the final act of painting creates the subtle variations in this intuitive process, which is too complex to follow, like life and light itself.