The story behind this work is stranger than fiction. It begins in 1933 when Yiddish poet, playwright, essayist and activist Melech Ravitch (a pseudonym for Zekharye-Khone Bergner) left Europe in search of a new home for Europe’s increasingly threatened Jewish population. He arrived in Australia with the fantasy that among the Kimberleys lied the Promised Land for his people. Decades later his son, the acclaimed artist Yosl Bergner, memorialised this journey as art. While largely disastrous, Ravitsh’s mission lives on through these images – a force of idealised humanitarianism against enormous odds.
Ravtish’s journey was an improbable one. Here was an urbane Yiddish poet in the blood red outback, an outsider in the unyielding heat. Yet, Ravitsh and to a richer degree Bergner, perceived the lived reality of Aboriginal peoples in a way White Australia failed to. While Ravitsh still harboured colonial perspectives, Bergner is renowned as the first Australian artist to portray Aboriginal people not as romantic or ‘primitive’, but as subjects of a brutal dispossession.
Bergner’s depiction of his father is multilayered. It is both a tribute and an absurdist, even cynical view of a Don Quixote-esque figure. Most bracingly however, these works recall the refugee’s plight – an experience that remains pertinent today. The truth of Bergner’s work is sometimes so dazzling that art historian Bernard Smith once asked when will we be capable “of bearing the reality that Bergner brought us?”
Bergner brought German Expressionism to Australia. His legacy persists in not only style, but the belief art can change the world. A lifelong member of the National Gallery of Victoria, a major retrospective of Bergner was held at Tel Aviv Museum in 2000. He is represented in numerous public collections and is the recipient of the Israel Prize for painting and co-recipient of the Dizengoff Prize for painting.
'The Explorer and His Guide' stems from the highly collectible portfolio, 'The Kimberly Album', which tells of Australian history, the desire to belong and a father and son. It reaches across time and space to swipe at something psychological: the longing to find home when you feel at sea.
For collectors of socially conscious, Modern and expressionist art, Bergner is a must.
Yosl BERGNER (1920 - 2017)
'The Explorer and His Guide, from The Kimberley Album' 1995
hand-coloured screenprint on paper
Edition of 50
Image Size: 70 x 50 cm
Dimensions: 70 x 50 cm
Signed: Signed lower centre; numbered lower left; titled in print lower centre.
Comes with Letter of Provenance
Bibliography:Epstein, Anna. Melekh Ravitsh: The eccentric outback quest of an urbane Yiddish poet from Poland. Melbourne: Real Film and Publishing, 2019; 22.
Availability: in stock
Condition:Very Good: Describes a work of art’s image As New, but may show some small signs of surrounding wear. There are no tears to paper margin or disruption to paint surface. Image is in Fine condition.
© The Artist or Assignee