Portrait Gallery visits Arcadia

“ARCADIA: Sound of the sea” is an unexpected exhibition that brings together 40 photographs by John Witzig, the co-founder of “Tracks” magazine and founder of “SeaNotes.”

Wayne Lynch at Possum Creek 1969  by John Witzig pigment print

Wayne Lynch at Possum Creek 1969
by John Witzig
pigment print

As well, the show features seven large ink drawings by Sydney artist Nicholas Harding, and film footage from Albert Falzon’s “Morning of the Earth.”

And what exactly is the Arcadian reference? It seems to relate to the concept of an alternative lifestyle.

In the first issue of “Tracks,” Nat Young wrote “By simply surfing we are supporting the revolution”. Reflecting the perspective of John Witzig’s publications and their treatment of Australian politics, religion, conservation and alternatives to conformist ways of living, Young’s comment underpins the visualised conception of freedom and potential reflected in the exhibition’s images of young surfers. National Portrait Gallery historian and the exhibition’s curator, Sarah Engledow, says that “Arcadia” “is expressive of the free-spirited, passive-revolutionary character of a group of Australian surfers in the age of conscription to Vietnam.”

Witzig’s photographs have been newly-printed to unprecedented size. Five sections from Falzon’s 1972 film channel dreams of a free lifestyle. Harding’s drawings are a natural fit with the texture of the photographs, film and drawings, Engledow suggest, evoke textures and odours of “salt and fresh water, wet and dry sand, dune vegetation, undergrowth, tent canvas, floors of vans and shacks, hand-knitted jumpers, corduroy, spongy neoprene, stiff hair, dog fur, firewood, seaweed and rocks.”

The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue comprising reproductions of photographs and drawings from the exhibition, new short pieces and excerpts from “Tracks,” 1970-1972 and SeaNotes of 1977-1978.

In short, a genuine blast from the past.

“Arcadia: Sound of the sea” will be displayed at the NPG from today, August 14 to October 19. It then tours to Geelong Regional Art Gallery, Victoria and Tweed Regional Art Gallery.

Wayne Lynch at Possum Creek 1969
by John Witzig
pigment print

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