Australian tonalism as a foundation

edited July 2021 in Introduce Yourself
Listening to Mark I hear my own teacher, who was taught in Australian Tonalism - the Max Meldrum school. I fall back on those disciplines all the time. As someone who had sketched and thought in lines, it taught me to see and paint.
However, more recently after enjoying the accuracy required for portraits I've enjoyed digging in to more detail in landscapes. I've found the key disciplines of capturing the tonal drama, bringing the whole painting along together, painting from the edges, etc. It's all there telling the story behind the details. Lose that and lose the painting.
I'm an overseas aid worker, so have been painting over two decades but only completed about 20-25 paintings and only 8 originals.


  • edited July 2021
    Hi, @Abstraction. Welcome to the forum. 

    Interesting that you know about Max Meldrum. When I was young and living in Melbourne I began painting in my spare time but didn't really know what I was doing. Then a friend who was a painter put me in touch with a chap who was taught by Max Meldrum and who gave weekly lessons. I did a few lessons with this chap but I was only in my twenties and there were many distractions - mostly the need to earn a living - which meant that I couldn't put in the time required to become a good painter and so I gave it away.  But I always remembered the ideas that my Meldrumite teacher drummed into his students about thinking in terms of tone (or value as it is called nowadays) and mass and not getting hemmed in by lines. He was totally against doing any sort of under-drawing and I found this strange and confronting but I could sort of see the sense in it. Drawing was done with the brush. Anyway, after I retired I needed something to keep me interested in life and had  always  promised myself that one day, when I had the time, I would go back to painting. I wasn't getting anywhere on my own but I soon discovered DMP. The ideas espoused by Mark Carder  I found immediately understandable and helpful and painting has become a full-time occupation. But I've always remembered the lessons taught by Meldrum's student. I squint all the time at a subject to find the main masses and most visually important areas and I don't do under-drawings. 

    Anyway, I thought it was such a coincidence that another person here on DMP had come in contact with Meldrums's ideas. So thanks for sharing.  :)  
  • I have often studied with awe, the portrait Max Meldrum did of his mother, but I am afraid, for landscapes, the Heidelberg School have my heart.  Streeton and Condor were masters of light.  Didn't Meldrum learn from McCubbin?   Having said that, can anyone dispute Hans Heysen as the real master of Australian light?  His paintings always tug at my heartstrings.  Such a pity that in all the years I frequented galleries; I only drew and did not paint.   I suppose I always felt intimidated by such great works.   Now I am unable to access those monumental works, I would relish the opportunity do do so again and study the use of tone, hue and brushstrokes.   C'est la vie!!
    Welcome, Abstraction, and thanks for sending me for a stroll down memory lane.  Looking forward to seeing some of your works.
  • Welcomed to the forum.  I look forward to seeing more of your paintings.
  • toujours said:
    ...but I am afraid, for landscapes, the Heidelberg School have my heart.  Streeton and Condor were masters of light.
    No question for me the Heidelberg School are iconic for both artists and generations of the Australian public alike. Australian light. No-one to me captured the feeling as a child of squinting my eyes in the Australian summer better than McCubbin in 'The purple noon's transparent might.'
    I don't particularly like Meldrum's paintings and prefer his students' work. People like Clarice Beckett. But the technique I learnt from a student of one of Meldrum's students was superb.
    I still hear Des Johnson's voice as he was teaching. And I learnt to squint my eyes. Looking at my painting in a mirror. Painting the picture upside-down to see it as a series of abstract tonal shapes. Using a scope made of two polarised glass lenses and pvc pipe and twisting until it simplified the tones (it's quite brilliant, actually.) Black glass. In that technique at its basic level you painted as though your observation was a single glance, with a single point of focus. Everything else could be left understated.
    'Tones, shapes, edges... That's the order the eye sees.'
    He had a small landscape with ridiculous colours - yet it looked right - to show us the relative importance of colour compared to getting tone, shape, edges right.
    'Paint the next biggest difference.'
    'I think you missed a hair on one of those bees' knees...' (If I was getting caught up in details too early.)
    'You don't paint up there. Stand back and paint from back here. See the mark you want to make, make your mark on the canvas, then stand back.'
    'You have to bring the whole painting along together.'
    'The point of greatest contrast. The sharpest edges. Colour against colourlessness...' (What draws the eye.)

  • edited July 2021
    I agree about Meldrum and landscape. It was not his forte. He did very few. I think the bar was set very high by the Heidelberg school and not many since have been able to get over it. Streeton's "The Purple Noon's Transparent Might" in the NGV was the painting which enthralled me most as a kid and I returned time and again to look at it. It never disappointed.  And still doesn't. Meldrum would never, and could never, have painted anything like it. Clarice Beckett was one of Meldrum's few devotees who made good in her own small way. (Artistically I mean.) She took his ideas and softened them and made something uniquely her own with them. She liked landscape.  I prefer hers to Meldrum's.
Sign In or Register to comment.