Warfare 1945 signed and dated 'Raokin / 45' lower right oil on board 60.7 x 79.0cm (23 7/8 x 31 1/8in).
PROVENANCE The collection of the artist Macquarie Galleries, Sydney Souter Collection Australian & International Fine Art, Christie's, Melbourne, 22 August 2000, lot 82 The Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy Collection, acquired in 2000
EXHIBITED Sulman Prize 1945, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 19 January - 19 February 1946, cat. no. 17, titled Mural Design "Warfare" H.F. Weaver Hawkins Exhibition, Macquarie Galleries, Sydney, 17-29 March, 1976, cat. no. 10, titled Detail for Mural Painting "Warfare" H.F. Weaver Hawkins retrospective, Newcastle Region Art Gallery, Newcastle, 29 October - 11 December 1994 Weaver Hawkins 1893-1977, S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney, 1 June - 16 July 1995, cat. no. 25
LITERATURE "Art correspondent", 'Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes: spotlight on Australian art', Pix, 2 March 1946, pp. 10-13, p. 11 (illus.) Bernard Smith, 'Art chronicle', Meanjin Papers, vol. 5, no. 1, Autumn 1946, pp. 48-9 Eileen Chanin, 'To Draw, Paint and Write a Little', Hemisphere, vol. 21, no. 3, March 1977, pp. 2-7, p. 6 (illus.) Eileen Chanin and Steven Miller, The Art and Life of Weaver Hawkins, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1995, pp.61, 134 (illus.), 223
A reviewer once wrote that Weaver Hawkins 'has talent, but is burdened by a cumbersome reasoning mind.'1 To an artist who had lived through two world wars, barely surviving the first, a reasoning mind was hardly a burden. Had more people used theirs, it seemed to him, much suffering could have been prevented. The experience of war not only changed the way Weaver Hawkins worked as an artist, it transformed his entire understanding of art. In an unpublished essay on the 'Impact of war on art in Australia', written around the same time that he painted Warfare, he argued that artists could no longer continue to churn out paintings as luxury commodities or tokens of prestige in the wake of two world wars, for art's 'artificial and objectionable exclusiveness' had been challenged. 2 Art was now required to play its role in making sense of what had happened and in ensuring that it would not be repeated. So in works like Warfare, Weaver Hawkins applied all his critical and reasoning powers to his art, realising that he was working at a time when taste in painting, particularly in Sydney, had turned to the decorative. He wrote to his brother Ernest in 1946 'it is a romantic, low-tone type of glaze painting which is the vogue and fashion at the moment here. So my "intellectual" high-tone things have little chance of selling'. Still he hoped that they would 'have a little cultural influence.'3
They did have influence, prompting debate on a whole range of topical issues. The lifestyle magazine Pix attempted to decipher Warfare for its readers, describing the work as an 'interesting and vigorous design', where 'Big Business, the Church and the Press are symbolised as being at the root of humanity's troubles.'4 Big business, government or a group of faceless bureaucrats plot away at the top of the painting. The Church is represented by a clergyman who carries his God, like his Bible, in his back pocket. He seems to be launching a young man on his path. Is the harrowing, emaciated figure on the left the same young man a few years on? All around him play out the consequences of warfare. Some respond by carpe diem, and living for the moment, some profiteer, others, like the couple in the centre who have just received a letter from the War Office, suffer the personal loss which every conflict brings. The figures in the top right hand corner of the painting were later used by the artist to symbolise primal violence, in a watercolour of Cain and Abel.
This painting was included in the 1945 Sulman Prize at the Art Gallery of NSW, where it was catalogued as a 'mural design'. In the decade from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s, Weaver Hawkins worked on a number of mural designs, including Atomic power 1947 (Art Gallery of NSW), Man 1950 (University of NSW) and Two minutes silence 1953 (Australian War Memorial). Warfare is an important work within this series. Painted at the end of the Second World War, it is the first to address the subject of warfare, which became a recurrent theme in the artist's mural designs. Australia's most distinguished art historian, Bernard Smith, thought it a loss for the nation that Weaver Hawkins was never actually given the opportunity to translate one of these works into a large public mural, as he desired. 'Hawkins is a natural mural painter', Smith wrote, 'but his works have never been fashionable for two reasons: his paintings contain ideas, and he works out his compositions in a firm linear style after the manner of the quattrocento.'5
Smith identified the art of the early Italian Renaissance as a major source of inspiration for Weaver Hawkins. Others saw the influence of Leger or of the theory of dynamic symmetry made popular by Jay Hambidge. Fellow artist Walter Pidgeon thought that, despite having lived in Australia for many years, Weaver Hawkins' style remained essentially English, closely related to work done by the Vorticists William Roberts and Wyndham Lewis. 6 All these observations were valid. Weaver Hawkins himself identified three types of art: descriptive, romantic and architectural, characterising them as discursive, emotional and intellectual. He believed that his art was architectural, 'expressing things seen or imagined as conceived or built intellectually' and recreating them 'in a synthesis and a unity.'7
As an artist he was greatly concerned about the impact of science and technology upon modern life, both in warfare and in other areas of human interaction. Like the philosopher Heidegger, he believed that technology had changed human nature as well as society.8 Only through creative activity could harmony be restored, for art is essentially prophetic, relational, contemplative and always engaged with the physical, material world. Works like Warfare embody the high vocation Weaver Hawkins assigned art: 'to restore a balance and enable us to make a satisfactory adjustment on to the complex plane of existence to which we have attained some would say climbed, others would say descended. But whichever it is considered to be, it is the new way of life of man created by science which is with us to stay and probably will increase greatly in development, in fact is doing so rapidly.'9
1 'Sobriety marks Northwood Group Show', Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, 5 May 1948, p. 5 2 'Impact of war on art in Australia' from Notebook 1/5, MS1994.3, Weaver Hawkins archive, Art Gallery of New South Wales Research Library and Archive, Sydney 3 Letter to Ernest 28 February 1946, MS1994.3 Weaver Hawkins archive, Art Gallery of New South Wales Research Library and Archive, Sydney 4 'Art correspondent: spotlight on Australian art', Pix, 2 March 1946, p. 10 5 Bernard Smith, 'Dog-Day Doldrums', Meanjin, vol. 13, no. 1, Autumn 1954, p. 107 6 Walter Pidgeon, 'English Eye to Australian Landscape', Australian, 27 February 1946 7 'Notes on art', from Notebook 1/5, MS1994.3, Weaver Hawkins archive, Art Gallery of New South Wales Research Library and Archive, Sydney 8 'Human nature' (1929) from Book of poems, MS1994.3, Weaver Hawkins archive, Art Gallery of New South Wales Research Library and Archive, Sydney 9 Manuscript notes on 'Easel and Mural Painting', from Notebook 1/10, 7, MS1994.3, Weaver Hawkins archive, Art Gallery of New South Wales Research Library and Archive, Sydney