Abstract Photography


Abstract Photography: Re-evaluating Visual Poetics in Australian Modernism and Contemporary Practice
by Gary Sauer-Thompson & Adam Dutkiewicz
Moon Arrow Press, 2016
ISBN 9780992434854 (pbk)
ISBN 9780992434847 (hbk)

In 2014 the Monash Gallery of Art presented an exhibition titled Photographic Abstractions that toured regional galleries in Victoria into the following year.
It included a number of contemporary photographers, but the artists who were included from before c.1970 were John Cato (1926–2011), Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski (1922–1994), Wolfgang Sievers (1913–2007), Mark Strizic (1928–2012) and David Moore (1927–2003). The abstract effects the curators were interested in materialised through various techniques and approaches that challenge usual conceptions of photography and proposed a “photographic language” less concerned with documentation and more with sensual experience, triggering the imagination and questioning the way we look at life and our world. The photographers’ methods entailed cropping their images, employing unorthodox points of view, and focusing on formal and textural elements. Some even used experimental means to achieve their imagery, such as scanners or electronics, or they manipulated the photographic emulsion, or devised means of montage, with multiple exposures or collage. This range of approaches is also the focus of this monograph, which explores the obscured tradition of abstract photography in Adelaide c.1950−75.

GARY SAUER-THOMPSON presents work from his own series and writes two essays contextualising the subject and interpreting its reception in Adelaide and elsewhere.

ADAM DUTKIEWICZ researches the unexplored tradition of post-war abstract photography in Adelaide, and brings into the light the main practitioners: Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski, Ian Davidson, Dušan Marek, Ludwik Dutkiewicz, John Dallwitz, Jan Dalman, Peter Medlen and Stephanie Schrapel.

Abstract photography offers a means of expression in itself and now constitutes a significant tool in the repertoire of many contemporary photographers and artists. In this book its development as an idiom is examined through a regional focus that points to its universal appeal.

Cover image: John Dallwitz: SB4.379
July 1963 Marino Rocks, 35mm slide

Background image: John Dallwitz: SB4.024
December 1960 Eucla beach, 35mm slide

Cover design: Michal & Adam Dutkiewicz

The book is available for $40 from the publisher: Box 3072 Norwood, South Australia, 5067; or through the Art Gallery of South Australia shop; Royal South Australian Society of Arts gallery; or Pepper Street Gallery shop.

The hardcover version is available from blurb.com:


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A Visual History: the Royal South Australian Society of Arts 1856-2016


Front cover, A Visual History: The Royal South Australian Society of Arts, 1856-2016, Volume One, compiled and edited by Adam Dutkiewicz

A Visual History: the Royal South Australian Society of Arts 1856-2016
Volume One
compiled and edited by Adam Dutkiewicz
Royal South Australian Society of Arts Inc., 2016
ISBN 9780994648006

Volume Two will be produced in 2017

The South Australian Society of Arts was founded in October 1856, incorporated in 1894, and received its Royal charter in 1935 for the state’s centenary in 1936. Its aims were  the promotion of the arts, not only painting, photography, and sculpture but also of architecture, decorative design, and decorative and applied arts; and through loans, competitive exhibitions, lectures and the formation of an art library.

It presented Annual Exhibitions, initially in locations such as the Legislative Council and the Adelaide Town Hall. In 1861 the South Australian Institute, formed to house a host of affiliated cultural bodies, provided rooms for the Society in a new building on North Terrace. For some time the Society concentrated on establishing a school of art and design and founding a national gallery.  The South Australian School of Art (previously School of Design and later SA School of Arts & Crafts) began in its rooms in the Institute and after 1871 it became difficult to secure an adequate venue to house the volume of art work for its annual exhibitions. The National Gallery held its first exhibition in 1881. In 1884 the Society was recognised by Parliament and affiliated to the Public Library,  Museum and Art Gallery of South Australia by Act No. 296.

Charles Hill, 1st President SA Society of Arts, 1909-small

Charles Hill, artist and founder

With its focus on areas other than exhibitions, the Society suffered criticism in the press but received continuing support from government. With membership dwindling, the Society was regenerated by a band of dedicated members, including the Chief Justice, Sir Samuel Way, who had from time to time served as President when Acting Governor of the colony, and the newly appointed Director of the School of Design, Harry Pelling Gill, who was a Vice-President. This core group established a cooperative council comprised of artists, architects, accountants and businessmen who set about rejuvenating the Society, and it held its first annual exhibition for some years in the top lit rooms in the Institute in 1893 (the School of Art having relocated to the Exhibition Building). It published a significant, illustrated catalogue to accompany the exhibition.

The Society had formal affiliations with the South Australian Photographic Society and the SA Institute of Architects. It hosted the annual exhibitions of the spin-off society, the Adelaide Easel Club, founded by a small band of disaffected senior artists, including the brothers William Wadham and Alfred Sinclair (Wadham), Hans Heysen, Hayley Lever, Rose Macpherson (Margaret Preston) before the Society’s renewal, in 1892. It lasted until 1901, when it was amalgamated with the senior society once again.

SA Society of Arts exhibition 1893

Scott Barry (photographer): The SA Society of Arts Annual Exhibition 1893 – west room    albumen photograph, RSASA Archives

In 1898 the Society expanded its exhibition programme to include the Federal exhibitions, formed with funds from the bequest of Thomas Elder in order to provide the means by which pictures could be acquired from artists across the colonies to form the core of an Australian collection for the National Gallery. The Federal Exhibitions ran until 1923, at which time it was decided they had fulfilled the intended purpose.

New rooms and a permanent gallery were added in a north wing to the Institute Building, opening in 1907; the Society still occupies these rooms and presents regular exhibitions in the gallery. In the 1920s the Society began to show more and more solo exhibitions by its star artists, and helped to launch the careers of ambitious young painters and etchers; people like Hans and Nora Heysen, Gustave Barnes, Leslie Wilkie, Will Ashton, Hayley Lever and d’Auvergne Boxall, Allan Glover, Fred Millward Grey,  Jospeh Goodhart, Marie Tuck, Dorrit Black, Horace Trenerry  and Max Ragless all showed solo exhibitions.

In the 1930s it promoted the Arunta watercolour painters, and was one of the first galleries in Adelaide to present work by the Papunya Tula painters in the 1970s and 80s. It gave birth to the Contemporary Arts Society in the early 1940s, through its junior, more modernist inclined members, and continued to show its annual and major exhibitions until it secured its own premises in 1964. It hosted annual exhibitions of the Adelaide Camera Club well into the 1950s, as well.

The Society was a base and means by which many refugee and migrant artists were able to build their careers in Adelaide after the Second World War. Artists like Dusan and Voitre Marek, Wladyslaw and Ludwik Dutkiewicz, Stan Ostoja-Kotkowski, Ieva Pocius, Alexander Sadlo, Stanislaus Rapotec, Lidia Groblicka and many others were Fellows of the Society and regular exhibitors in group, prize and in solo exhibitions. It has always accommodated potters, carvers, illustrators, photographers and creative and genre painters of all kinds.

It runs satellite groups, like the Sketch Club (est. 1923 by Henri van Raalte) and the Outdoor Painting Group. It maintains associations with other art societies and suburban groups, as well as formal affiliations with the Friends of the SA School of Art. It offers several prizes, including the Portrait Prize and Solar Art Prize exhibitions, as well as smaller prizes in its members exhibitions every year.

Its presidents have included architects, ceramic artists, sculptors, modellers, painters, etchers, illustrators, photographers, textile artists and art critics.

The first volume, which features the early history and officials of the Society, was released to coincide with the Society’s 16oth anniversary celebrations in October 2016. It is available from the society in two editions: for $75 (deluxe paperback) or $50 (economy paperback):



Royal South Australian Society of Arts Inc., Level 1, Institute Bldg, cnr North Tce & Kintore Ave, Adelaide 5000; Postal Address: PO Box 177, Rundle Mall, Adelaide, 5000

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100th Anniversary Exhibition


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SJ Ostoja-Kotkowski


Some time ago I photographed the above work, an abstract in oil by the late artist Stan Ostoja-Kotkowski (1927-1994)  in a  private collection in Adelaide.  Since then, a number of new things by the artist have come into my in-tray via email and Facebook.

One of the impressive items was a mural that had been left intact since 1960, in a house that had gone up for sale (below) . This was very similar to work I had seen 20 years ago that was presented as part of the 6th Australian Architectural Convention Exhibition (6AACE) held in Botanic Park, Adelaide, in 1956. Stan was well known in Adelaide for his murals in hotels and restaurants, and his murals and bas-relief sculptures became very sought after in bars, hotels and corporate offices in South Australia and beyond.


Stan was also an impressive sculptor and photographer. Some years ago I worked at Flinders University Art Museum at Bedford Park SA accessioning work from a large collection of graphics, photographs and documentary material that was left to the Museum. It also included numerous oil paintings and examples of transitional works as he moved away from oils to plastics and electronic technologies, in op art and what would become his multimedia art that incorporated electronics, photography, light and laser projection and sometimes human performance. One of those images was incorporated into his profile that I included in my collaboration with Gary Sauer-Thompson in 2016, titled Abstract Photography: Re-evaluating visual poetics in Australian modernism and contemporary practice (Moon Arrow Press, 2016).

Around 2000 I managed to save a mural that had been installed in the international terminal at Adelaide airport – with the cooperation of the airport’s management, I managed to secure the work on permanent loan to Flinders University, with the help of the then Directors of the Museum, Doreen Mellor then Gail Greenwood. After negotiations, the mural was installed in the foyer of the IT Building on campus.

I recently found another example of Ostoja’s oil painting style from the late 1950s in Adelaide:


I will need to investigate further to provide captions for these images, but wanted to share them here.

An amusing historical video exists that captures this artists experimental activities in Adelaide in 1962: https://youtu.be/bYP-Su8YP7k

Note that the narrator mispronounces Stan’s surname on each occasion – a sign of the times!


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A Visual History – volume two



As I undertook compiling, editing and designing volume one of the Society’s history in 2016, it became clear that many significant artists could not be accommodated within the framework I had set up in the book to provide an overview of the foundations and main affiliations and actors. I was determined to have the book as comprehensive as possible, and for it to be a complete publication in itself: hence the inclusion of a selection of artists from the Society’s first fifty years and the inclusion of profiles of all the Presidents and most of the significant officials and the Honorary Life Members of the Society.

The book worked well overall, but how could such a survey of South Australian art not include stalwarts of the Society who were not officials but had served on Council, some of them for decades, like Gwen Barringer, and other major artists like Margaret Preston, Dorrit Black, Horace Trenerry and Sir Ivor Hele? There were many more modern artists, especially after World War Two, of considerable importance, who should be recorded in such a history; and the current membership should also be considered and compete for inclusion.

With such thoughts in mind I put the idea of a second volume to the management and the Council, and they agreed but noted the stress the first publication had imposed on the Society’s limited means. I knew a second volume would be important in order to be thorough and to promote the Society and its contemporary relevance in the broader art community in South Australia. With a few exceptions — such as John Kay and William Maxwell, who might have been included in the first volume — this volume is mostly confined to the years since artists themselves have managed the Society, extending back to 1909. The inclusion of the two profiles mentioned does offer an opportunity to revise the background to the organisation here: in the case of Maxwell, his profile is not recorded in art history books elsewhere and is of particular interest to the Society because Past President and Honorary Life Member Dr John Dowie AM, Adelaide’s best sculptor of the 20th century, penned the article in Kalori, the society’s journal.

In many respects this second volume is a better survey of the Society’s talent across its history, because it shows some of its most famous artists and gives a better idea about the vitality of the mid-late 20th century and the approaches of its contemporary membership. But where to stop, and who to include? Many discussions were undertaken and suggestions made in the Society’s office over 2016 and early 2017, but my brief from Bev Bills and Vikki Waller was to provide a wide spread of genres and media and to ensure that former and younger members were also included, being especially aware of prize winners in the Society’s major exhibitions and the impetus provided by the Youthscape programme.

The result is a book that cuts a cross-section through the current art scene in Adelaide. The two volumes, in combination including 300 chapters and over 1,050 images, provide a significant overview of art in South Australia since colonisation, and it is the first encyclopedia-like volume since 1969. It is hoped this volume, and its accompanying one from 2016, will both set standards and provide inspiration.

[Volume Two is available at the RSASA Gallery for $50.00. It will be launched around the end of January 2018. Publicity to follow.]


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Jan Dutkiewicz

JAN DUTKIEWICZ (b. 1911, Stara Sol, Poland, d. Katowice, Poland, 1983)15380315_10155038298978917_8803582291899448749_n-copy


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Wladyslaw Dutkiewicz


Wladyslaw Dutkiewicz – photo by Peter Medlen, 1962

Upon his arrival in Australia in 1949, Wladyslaw Dutkiewicz’s art was not too
experimental: the paintings he managed to execute in Bavaria after the war were
solid exercises in landscape, still-life and portraiture, in which he searched to
find his “voice”. They were produced in a well-crafted, rather academic style, but
showed flair with brushwork and a finely tuned sensibility and flair for expression
and abstraction. His early paintings here, however, indicate an amazing and
torrential outpouring of pent-up creative energy. Wlad’s first solo exhibition was
at Curzon Gallery, Adelaide, in early June 1951; the work caused a sensation
among the circles of artists and exhibition-goers. During his first solo shows at
the RSASA patrons were seen queuing up the stairs and outside of the Institute
Building waiting for the gallery to open.

The enormous and wide-reaching impact Wlad had on the art world in
Adelaide extended beyond visual arts. The research undertaken on the Adelaide
theatre scene in the exhibition A Brush with the Stage (1992) fully
revealed his experience in theatre, both in Hohenfels in Germany and in
Adelaide. We discovered, for instance, that he had retained his concept sketch for
a set for the opera La Traviata, which he had prepared in post-war Germany, and exhibited it in his first major exhibition in Australia in 1951. It was a surprise to find that his sepia-coloured, daguerreotype-like sets for Francis Flannagan’s production of Alexander Ostrovsky’s A Man Must Live, in November 1950, were his first achievements to catch the eyes of critics in Australia. Soon after he was commissioned to design sets for Iris Hart’s production of Federico Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba (1951) and again for Flannagan’s interpretation of Ivan Turgenev’s A Month in the Country (1952). While recovering from his accident in 1957, he collaborated with Thomas Steel on the set designs for John Edmund’s productions of Fallen Angels and Bus Stop, and collaborated with Jacqueline Hick, with whom he often painted in the studio of Francis Roy Thompson, on Anna Karenina in 1959.

From 1959 until 1962 he ran his own theatre group, the Art Studio Players, resprising his activities in DP camps after the war, directing several productions and acting in some of them, including Maxim Gorky’s The Lower Depths (1960). He later acted in television dramas for Crawford Productions in Melbourne.  His final stage production was Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck for the Adelaide University Theatre Guid, in 1967.

In painting, Wlad’s exploration of modernist styles and his personal synthesis of them, in his first several years in Adelaide, were truly remarkable, especially in the context of Australian art of the period. This was duly noted by a number of people attuned to contemporary art, most notably Max Harris and Ivor Francis, who wrote glowing reports on this “New Australian” artist and the impact he was having on the local art scene.
Within a year Lisette Kohlhagen and Dorrit Black, before her death in 1951, were also heaping praise while the conservative reviewers were horrified. The debate about radical modernism in Adelaide was reignited well before the French Painting Today touring exhibition in 1953, an event often highlighted as a turning point in Australian art, as it heralded the rise of abstract painting.

Wlad had won the Cornell Prize at the Contemporary Art Society on its inaugural occasion in 1951 and again in 1955; in the intermediate years he won several medals and prizes, and later the Advertiser Prize (shared with Erica McGilchrist). He was one of seven artists featured in the film Painting 1950-1955 South Australia, selected by his peers at the CAS of SA. He was included in Survey 1 at National Gallery of Victoria in 1958; the Helena Rubinstein at Art Gallery of NSW in 1958; Contemporary Australian Art at Auckland Art Gallery 1960 (which later toured to two other public galleries in New Zealand – Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui and Christchurch Art Gallery); Recent Australian Painting, at Whitechapel Gallery, London, 1961; and Australian Artists at Raymond Burr Galleries in Beverly Hills, USA (1961).

He had major survey exhibitions in Royal SA Society of Arts 1961; Lidums Gallery 1975; Greenhill Galleries, Adelaide 1989; Hilton International Hotel, Adelaide, 1991; Royal SA Society of Arts 1993; BMG Art 1995; and Royal SA Society of Arts, 2005.

In recent years he was featured in Paint[h]ing at the Australian Experimental Art Foundation in Adelaide (2010), curated by Domenico de Clario; Cubism and Australian Art, at Heide Museum of Modern Art (2009), curated by Lesley Harding and Sue Cramer; and Modern Being, Art Gallery of South Australia (2016-17), curated by Tracey Lock and Ellie Freak.

Below are links to major exhibitions the artist was involved with over the last decade and to his works on paper donated to the State Library of South Australia after his death.




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Adam Dutkiewicz


Adam Dutkiewicz, photo by Ursula Dutkiewicz, 2010

Adam Jan Dutkiewicz was born in Adelaide in 1956. He matriculated at Adelaide
Boys’ High School then went on an extended gap year during which he attended
the “university of life”. In the early-mid 1980s he studied Creative Writing,
Printmaking, Drawing and Painting at Hartley CAE and Communications
Studies as it transitioned to the Magill campus of the University of South
Australia. During this time he was managing editor and publisher of Words And
Visions (arts showcase) magazine, which became WAV Publications, producing
18 issues of the magazine and several books of fiction and poetry by mostly
South Australian writers. In 1986 he co-edited The Land of Ideas, a collection of
short stories for children, with Pauline Wardleworth; and in the following year
edited Tales from Corytella, the collected stories of Flexmore Hudson, his old
English teacher at high school. He worked as an assistant to Professor Ian Forbes
on the history of the Queen Victoria Hospital in 1987.

In 1990 he travelled overseas, absorbing art and theatre. Upon his return he completed his Honours year, working with Dr Catherine Speck. In 1991–92 he worked as an assistant to Dr Stephanie Schrapel and designer Katherine Sproul on the historic A Brush with the Stage exhibition, in conjunction with the Performing Arts Collection. In October 1992 he held his first major solo exhibition at RSASA and was elected Fellow and shortly thereafter President of the society.

During his time as President he oversaw the production of a number of historic exhibitions, including surveys for Jacqueline Hick, Francis Roy Thompson, Wladyslaw Dutkiewicz, the first of two survey exhibitions by visiting Chinese master artist Fu Hua, Rita Hall and the society’s Sketch Club. He also edited and produced Kalori, the society’s journal. During his presidency membership grew and he pursued an agenda of  eclecticism, elevated professionalism and modernisation of the society (he brought computers into the RSASA office) and its membership, which met with considerable resistance. His term received support from Quit (later Foundation SA), which promoted a healthy, non-smoking lifestyle, so he was able to publish an extensive array of catalogues
with most of the aforementioned and other society exhibitions. He exhibited the first example of digital art shown in the society. His dedicated and hard-working Secretaries were Jan Howser, Donna West Brett and Maria Maiorano. His Council were supportive and appreciative of his long hours and total commitment.

From June 1992 until November 2005 he worked as freelance art critic for The Advertiser newspaper and has also worked for Business Review Weekly, Art Monthly Australia online and The Independent Weekly (2006–08). He also curated several exhibitions of work by his father and other family members, and an exhibition on Polish-Australian artists for Polart at Adelaide Festival Centre.

In 1997 he was awarded a scholarship by the University of South Australia to undertake a doctoral degree at the South Australian School of Art in visual art history and theory. His thesis was essentially a history of abstract painting in Australia. He is the author of numerous catalogue essays and monographs, including on his father and uncle and other post-war, South Australian émigré artists and architects, and was contributing editor and writer for Australian Modern Design, published in Brisbane. His photographic essay of the salt fields at Dry Creek, The Path to Salt was published in 2012; since then he has produced a full biography on his late father; Francis Roy Thompson: Painter of Grace & Rebellion (2014) with Carrick Hill; and is currently working on a series of books on post-war photography in Adelaide, with photographer Gary Sauer-Thompson. Since 2011 he has pursued photography as his principal artistic medium.

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Ian Fairweather


Front cover of Murray Bail’s seminal biography of the Scottish-born Australian artist Ian Fairweather

Ian Fairweather by Wladyslaw Dutkiewicz

Every retrospective exhibition is worthwhile for those who wish to study art, and the exhibition of the work of Ian Fairweather in the National Gallery [AGSA] gives the onlooker at least an idea of how the artist achieves the final phase of his development. Probably they would not consider this phase as important a contribution to art in Australia as his early period.

In the landscape and figure stud[ies] of his early work, he begins to animate objects successfully, but it is still only a discipline imposed upon his personal sensitivity. His baroque-like early paintings are the beginning of his departure to his extremely personal style. The robust lines which appear in the latest pictures are the result of those pencil lines clearly seen in his early paintings, which developed to his brush lines of the semi-abstract on such huge canvases. The early discipline of freely handled pencil lines lead to the vigorous brush curves which give proof that he broke completely away from the classical prettiness through the study of Chinese calligraphy.

In his last stage, different pictures arrive in solemn, organic forms. One can say that he redresses the European character of his work through the universal theme of people, into a critical simplicity transforming them into unknown surroundings of primitive-like eternity and sharply creates a transparency of background in which human bones and anatomical details from the static classical sense disappear. Those abstract lines liberate the paintings from his previous baroque schooling (No. 7) and introduce to us a contemporary mosaic on a high aesthetic level. Deliberate simplification of figures, disintegration of the two-dimensional forms by strokes and lines with light from the background make those figures move in magical rhythm – an organic harmony of dramatic clumsiness.

Every picture with those dark lines is free from static masses and yet suggest[s] realism through its artistic objective and emotional approach.

Ian Fairweather consciously discarded his previous pictures which only suggested the imitation and illusion of nature. He resigned from using perspective models and other literary means, but many of our painters today would be happy to have achieved as much as he had done at that stage. Years of experience and a long devoted life to art, allowed him to create a sufficiently organic style comparable to the language of forms in shorthand – a style in which elementary forms inherit a simplicity of compact lines and colours. By simplification I mean reduction of mass by linear structure, or that the open planes superimposed on the contours of the figures are not a point of departure only, but are sharply defined contours of existence in the universe. The veteran artist’s inner experience comes to the surface like magic gestures of the spring of life.

Some criticism can be levelled at the poor material which he uses – cartons, cardboard, which is already buckled, and second-hand masonite scraps which he has joined together.

Criticism can also be made of the framing which he had definitely done himself, and which now deserves to be changed to a better quality by collectors. In his early work he used oil on cardboard and gouache. Some oil is already cracking – probably he has used house paint. All other works of his second phase are mostly painted in tempera or self-made colour.

But Ian Fairweather’s work cannot be dimmed by things of such minor importance, which cannot camouflage the heights to which this hermit has already climbed during his long life.

Originally published in Kalori 3, no 4 (Dec. 1965), p. 14 (ed. Betty Jew)



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