Ralph Balson

(Australia 12 Aug 1890 – 1964)

Non-objective painting

Not on display
Further information

Ralph Balson is a pioneer of abstraction in Australia. He was working as a house painter when he began associating and exhibiting with artists of the progressive Crowley-Fizelle School in George Street, Sydney who in the late 1930s were experimenting with modern visual languages of geometry, movement and colour. At this time, Balson increasingly shed vestiges of the figure in his work and in 1941 held a solo exhibition of 21 non-objective paintings that became known as a landmark moment of Australian abstraction. Balson’s paintings in this exhibition were intensely coloured works of floating geometric forms, compositions of vibrant, rhythmic constructions that poetically embodied a sense of the modernity of Sydney’s inter-war years.

In the mid-1950s, Balson shifted from this earlier geometric style of proto-cubist painting to compositions created from small patches and dabs of pigment that build a larger and crowded picture of vital, pulsating colour. His artistic colleague Grace Crowley noted the likeness of these works with Georges Seurat’s broken coloured surfaces. Non-objective painting 1956 exemplifies the revised, painterly style embraced by Balson. The seemingly random placements of colour are in fact carefully constructed movements resulting in a composition that shifts from depth to lightness with shimmering force. His fluctuating particles of paint form a vision of a greater complex whole.

Balson developed his work with the belief that abstraction connected to the greater truths, rhythms and energies of the universe. He wrote in 1960, “I realise that the energy of the atoms that reach us from the Sun is the source of the Rhythms of existence…. all we can ever hope [is] ..to try and reach a small amount of the Rhythm and Relatively of the Universe with the Substance of Paint.”

The ceaseless movements of colour fragments in Non-objective painting builds to such larger statements of enduring energies, and for Balson revealed the greater realities that underlie surface appearances: “Abstract yes. Abstract from the surface, but more truly real with life.”

oil on board
69.2 x 91.4 cm board; 83.7 x 105.7 x 3.5 cm frame
Signature & date

Signed and dated l.r. corner, white oil "R Balson 56."

Gift of Phillip Constable 2019. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number
© Ralph Balson Estate