Friday, January 15, 2016

Montsalvat and Justus Jorgensen contribution to Australian culture.

Sketch of Montsalvat by Justus Jorgensen.

The end of the Second World War saw the influx of many European artists who had been displaced with the redrawing of Europe's map and the emergence of an enlarged Communist block in  a Eastern Europe. Many of these artist joined their fellows who had fled to Australia during the events in Germany and elsewhere in Continental Europe during the 1930s, and later helped to create Montsalvat we know today . Justus Jorgensen, a first generation Australian had in 1938 started on his life's work of establishing this artists collective at Eltham just outside of Melbourne.
I first became aware of Monsalvat in the 1950s talking to many of these New Australians emigrant artists as they often meet  in Loronenzi Wine Bar a coffee shop in Sydney that many artists used  on a regular bases. Often they had just returned from Melbourne after spending a week or so helping build this great project, Jorgensen wonderful contribution to Australia's cultural life. At the time the country was hell-bent on the demolition of vast numbers of the country's early Georgian and Victorian buildings. Many fine sandstone buildings were destroyed  and used as fill. Fortunately a number of the doorways and various other sculpture reliefs were rescued and given a second life in the building of Montsalvat. Jorgensen a trained architect attempted to revive both provincial and major buildings in his reconstruction project, to some extent he represented Australia's version of the Art and Craft movement of the late 19th cent. This recycling resulted in The Great Hall, Long Gallery and church along with a number of mud brick French Provincial cottages. The philosophy behind Monsalvat was to create an artists collective were artists, writers, musicians and craft people could exchange ideas and work in a peaceful environment. 
Jorgensen himself a professional painter, there are some 3000 works stored at Eltham has strangely been ignored by most of Australia's art writers and critics over the years. An early convert to atonalism while studying under Max Meldrum Jorgensen was always a very traditional artist, his work has a simplicity and direct appeal. A regular exhibiter to the Archibald Portrait Prize were his work displays a more academic  approach. The reason for his almost total exclusion from Australia's art history is hard to explain. He did not exhibit widely, but then many painters don't, so there must be a more convincing argument. Whether his work displays a lack of conviction for any particular approach has any validity is another criticism. 
What ever ones opinion about his artistic merits, Jorgensen's contribution to Australia's cultural life remains inspiring, Perhaps one day his gift will be fully appreciated.