Skip to main content

To help keep our visitors and staff safe, please book your spot before visiting.

Menu

The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

John Brack

In their own words

Recorded 1962

John Brack
Audio: 2 minutes

I always paint without a model, because being a conceptual painter, being a painter whose interest is in ideas, the model gets in the road, prevents me from meditating about it in such a way that I’m absorbed by hosts of visual details instead of by the idea. What I’m interested in in painting is people, of course, principally, how they live, how they behave, how they get the faces they deserve, how they can bear to put up with a life which seems so curiously tragic.

Of course I know that to be interested in people’s behaviour for a painter is most impure. It’s called literary, and in our day nothing could be a greater sin than to be a literary painter; but now I’m old enough to feel that it’s a waste of time to apologise for not painting in some other way, and the fact is that I’m still always fascinated by people and their behaviour. And yet at the same time, it’s not enough to just paint pictures of ideas; at the same time we must put it into a visual form which is as complete as any abstract visual form. And here, there’s always a conflict between the demands of the idea and the demands of the form.

And in any case, I’m always dubious about the remarks painters make about their own work, because what we so often say is rather what we would like to have done than what we’ve really done.

Acknowledgements

This oral history of John Brack is from the De Berg Collection in the National Library of Australia. For more information, or to hear full versions of the recordings, visit the National Library of Australia website.

Related people

John Brack

Related information

Portrait of Tam Purves
Portrait of Tam Purves
Portrait of Tam Purves
Portrait of Tam Purves

Bonfire of the vanities

Magazine article by Stuart Purves, 2016

Australian Galleries Director Stuart Purves tells the story of two portraits by John Brack.

Self portrait 1955
Self portrait 1955
Self portrait 1955
Self portrait 1955

Portrait of the artist as a young man

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2010

Dr Sarah Engledow explores the early life and career of John Brack.

Portrait of Kym Bonython/Portrait of Mr Bonython's speedway cap
Portrait of Kym Bonython/Portrait of Mr Bonython's speedway cap
Portrait of Kym Bonython/Portrait of Mr Bonython's speedway cap
Portrait of Kym Bonython/Portrait of Mr Bonython's speedway cap

Somewhere to hang your cap

Magazine article by Beatrice Thompson, 2007

A pair of portraits by John Brack; Portrait of Kym Bonython and Portrait of Mr Bonython's speedway cap combine to create a quirky depiction of their subject.

© National Portrait Gallery 2021
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia

Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency