Modern Australian artists were immersed in the Second World War. They served in the armed forces, worked with labour groups or in factories, and as official artists observing, recording, and interpreting military activity.
Drawing on their immediate experiences, these men and women responded to the upheaval and anxiety of the period to create powerful imagery that explored all aspects of life during war. In particular, they were inspired to create modern and innovative visual forms to interpret the experience of combat, the powerfully destructive machinery of war, and the vast social upheaval produced by global conflict.
Reality in flames is the first exhibition dedicated exclusively to exploring how Australian modernist artists responded creatively to the Second World War. The exhibition consists of 90 works of art drawn from the Australian War Memorial’s collection; taken together, they constitute one of the most diverse and comprehensive collections of modern Australian art relating to war. Many were created through the official war art scheme, where artists were commissioned to record the experience of Australians fighting overseas or of home front wartime activity – a tradition that began during the First World War and continues today. The Memorial has continued to enhance its collection of works from this period through an active program of acquisitions and donations, and the collection is now one of the most diverse and comprehensive accounts of this period in Australian military, social and art history. The exhibition includes work by leading artists such as Donald Friend, Joy Hester, Nora Heysen, Frank Hinder, Roger Kemp, Sidney Nolan, Eric Thake, Albert Tucker, and Danila Vassilieff.