Abstraction–Création: J.W. Power in Europe 1921–1938

Abstraction–Création: J.W. Power in Europe 1921–1938


For the first time, the work of Australian avant-garde artist J.W. Power will be exhibited with his early designs, sketchbooks and rare art books in a new exhibition at the National Library of Australia in Canberra. The exhibition, Abstraction-Création: J.W. Power in Europe 1921-1938 features a stunning reconstruction of Power’s 1934 solo exhibition in Paris with the influential Abstraction-Création group. Power was Australia’s most successful expatriate painter of the interwar years. Despite his career as an avant-garde artist who participated in numerous exhibitions in Europe, he is little known in Australia, other than as a visionary benefactor to the University of Sydney. Power collected contemporary European art and amassed a substantial library of art books and journals which are now part of the National Library’s collection. This collection, featured in the exhibition, includes a set of ten pochoir prints by the great Pablo Picasso, an acquaintance of Power in the 1920s. Power began carrying a sketchbook with him during his early years in Sydney and it would prove to be the habit of a lifetime. The National Library holds more than 50 of these sketchbooks, which, together, trace the course of Power’s career as an artist. In 1924, he became part of Fernand Léger’s class at the Académie Moderne. Léger’s teaching was crucial to the development of the international avant-garde in the interwar years. Following his studies with Léger, Power’s sketchbooks show how his cubism became informed by machine-age aesthetics. During the 1930s Power was a member of Abstraction-Création group, which brought together a diverse range of abstract artists. In 1934, Power held the first solo exhibition to take place at Abstraction-Création’s gallery. For his show, Power prepared a detailed plan on which he positioned miniature gouache versions of the paintings. While no catalogue survives, this plan has enabled the precise recreation of Power’s exhibition at the National Library, including 26 of the 28 works. These works trace his move away from cubism towards his own unique combination of abstraction and surrealism. Abstraction-Création: J.W. Power in Europe 1921-1938 will be on at the National Library of Australia in Canberra from 25 July to 26 October 2014. The Gallery is open daily from 10 am to 5pm and entry is free.

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