REALIST GROUP – GEORGE LUKE
George Luke, who was born in Melbourne in 1920, studied at Melbourne Technical College (now RMIT University) from 1936 until 1940, where he had Napier Waller as instructor in drawing. He also attended the National Gallery School from 1937 until 1939, where he met and became very friendly with Yosl Bergner, a young Jewish painter. They were both politically of the left and became part of the group that met at the Swanston Hotel and at the workshop of Bill Dolphin, the violin maker. George Luke became friends with Noel Counihan and Vic O’ Connor, later joining the Communist Party. He exhibited at the Jewish Kadema in Carlton in 1939 with Bergner, Counihan and O’Connor.
Luke joined the AIF IN 1940 and served in the army during World War 11, discharged in 1946, he sailed for England, not returning for three years. While overseas he travelled in England, Denmark, France, Italy and Yugoslavia.
Coming back to Melbourne in 1950 he worked as an illustrator for the Argus and other newspapers and magazines such as The Bulletin, Woman’s Day and the Brisbane Telegraph. Rather than listing him as a painter or sculptor, some references label Luke as a cartoonist. (1) Moving to Brisbane, where he lived for the rest of his life, he worked as a designer in the ABC Television studios from 1960 until 1976.
After showing in several mixed exhibitions in Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne Luke was invited to exhibit his sculpture at the Victorian Artists Society Galleries in 1963 with the Realist Group. Alan McCulloch gave Luke a favourable mention in his review. ‘Luke, who comes from Queensland, endows his semi-romantic heads of Henry Lawson, Maxim Gorki or the more socially conscious The Judge with considerable force.’ (1)
Luke built a reputation as a sculptor, showing in the ‘Mildura Prize for Sculpture’ in 1964 and being included in the prestigious ‘Recent Australian Sculpture’ exhibition, which toured all capital cities during 1964-65. Luke maintained strong links with the members of the Realist Group and when he had his first solo show in 1964 at the Argus Gallery in Melbourne Noel Counihan opened his exhibition.
In his review of the 1965 Realist Group exhibition, Noel Counihan, writing in the Communist Guardian said, ‘Luke’s child study and wittily observed luteplayer, with its strong inner movement are characteristic.’ (3) In the 1966 Realist Group show Luke exhibited Legal Eagle in ‘Coldcast Metal’, which was the current terminology for the new material, fibreglass and polyester resin. Writing in the Guardian, Eve Glenn, gave more praise to Luke than most of the other artists, commenting that, ‘The two busts by Luke were full of character and had a dynamic plastic quality lacking in the rest of the work exhibited.’ (4)
When the Realist Group were invited to exhibit at the Newcastle City Art Gallery in 1968, the Gallery published a Monthly News Sheet, in which it was stated that the group ‘emphasises the importance of realistic figuration in art, distinct, as they assert, from the antipodean mythologizing of such artists as Sidney Nolan, Arthur and David Boyd and Albert Tucker.’ (5)
Luke exhibited widely in subsequent years: Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra and Mildura but will be remembered in Melbourne by those who visited his solo exhibitions at Australian Galleries in 1966, ’69, ’71, his ‘Legal Studies’ of 1973 and a shared exhibition with the ceramicist, Robert Mair in 1977. His fascination with the sculpture of Daumier was evident in his exhibition of legal identities, shown at the Bar Association in Melbourne during 1978.
George Luke died in Brisbane in 1995.
Represented in the following Collections
Art Gallery of South Australia.
Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
Carossa Hospital, Brisbane.
Flinders University, South Australia.
McClelland Gallery+Sculpture Park, Victoria.
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
Rockhampton Art Gallery, Queensland
Sandringham Library, Victoria.
1 In 1982 George Luke published a book of cartoons by various artists, entitled, ‘It’s All Quite Legal.’
2 Alan McCulloch, ‘New talent in field of realism’, Herald (Melbourne) 5/6/1963.
3 Noel Counihan, ‘Realist painters’ show displays continued vitality’ Guardian (Melbourne) August 1965.
4 Eve Glenn, ‘Realist Group’s New Art Exhibition’, Guardian (Melbourne) 4/8/1966.
5 Monthly News Sheet, June, 1968. ‘The Realist Group’, Newcastle City Art Gallery.
Information selected from archives held by Ken Scarlett and Australian Galleries.
Ken Scarlett 2016