The Bathers

Question 1.

Research Charles Meere’s ‘Australian Beach Pattern’ and Zahalka’s ‘The Bathers’ and make a comparative study. Include reference to the visual features of each, artistic aims/intentions, meanings received, contexts from which they came, and the main FRAME/S (subjective, cultural, structural, postmodern) of reference.

Question 2.

Research a variety of audience responses to both Meere’s and Zahalka’s works.

The range of responses must be from the time from which they came and more contemporary responses.

Try to find both positive and negative critiques.

Select significant quotations.

Question 3.

Look at Zahalka’s ‘The Bathers’ from the postmodern perspective from which it came and answer the following questions.

  • Outline the postmodern features of this work.
  • Outline the postmodern techniques used and define them.
  • Research all of the explicit and subtle meanings expressed through this work which are reflective of postmodern practice.
  • Which theme does this work highlight?
  • How does this work act to alter our (the viewer’s) perceptions what it means to be ‘Australian’?



  1. Hannah said,

    Question 2:

    Zahalka and Meere: “These works show variously the worship of the sun and the beach by some Australian as well as a place for family activity and recreation.” –

    Charles Meere’s ‘The Australian Beach Pattern’:

    “some essential quality has been missed and that quality is warmth. They are figid paintings created at an emotional temperature close to freezing point. Their reserve is icy, their logic is impeccable but inhuman” – James Gleeson

    “while they are examples of physical perfection, there is no interaction between them, no eye contact. They typify the radical ideals if their time. They are ‘bronzed sun gods of the surf” – Linda Slutzkin

    “Photographs and paintings from this period also represented male bodies on the beach in stylised, neo- classical poses. Charles Meere’s famous Australian beach pattern, for example, which was started in 1938, the year of the sesquicentenary, and finished in 1940, focused on bodies that were so perfect they were more like classical sculpture than flesh and blood (Crombie 2004, p. 189). The emphasis on Greek Gods was an important factor in institutionalising a culture of sun-tanning on Australian beaches.” – Cameron White

    Anne Zalhalka’s ‘The Bathers’:

    “everyday racial exclusions from the beach are confronted in the work of artists such as Anne Zahalka, whose subjects depart from the formal/racial norms of beach photography. Zahalka challenges the Aryanised racial aesthetic of Dupain by photographing migrant families and working class bodies against a painted backdrop of Bondi. Against the formal symmetries of Dupain’s or Charles Meere’s Anglo bodies, Zahalka’s “The Bathers” represents the disorderly exuberance of large non-Anglo family groups on the beach.” – Suvendrini Perera

    There have been arrange of responces to Zahalka’s ‘The Bathers’ and Meere’s ‘Australia Beach Pattern’. Some responces are postive and others negative. The works are very similar, this being as Zahalka’s is an appropriation Iof Meere’s work.

  2. Luke S said,

    The Bathers presents different meanings to all who view it. Throughout time, different audiences have given an opinion on what this image means, may it be positive or negative.

    Maudie Palmer describes the ‘The Bathers’ to be feminist. Her critique in 1993, states “Zahalka has moved the majestic female throwing a beach ball into a position of prominence”. This, along with the woman’s pose makes her appear stronger, as opposed to the skinnier man in the background displaying a straight and stale pose.

    Karra Rees states that “Zahalka’s work loosely mimics the stylized neo-classical poses of Meere’s original painting; in place of his idealised subjects she inserts a more representative range of body types and cultural backgrounds to reflect contemporary Australian society” (Hall Of Mirrors: Anne Zahalka Portraits – 1989).

    Julianna Engberg talks about Zahalka’s ‘The Bathers’ – “Deliberately staged to prod our memory of the painting, Zahalka’s version approximates the essential visual menu of Meere’s work in preference to being an exact copy…The image, as made by Zahalka, and in referring to its iconic counterpart, reinforces the mythology of the idea of the beach, rather than the beach itself. Both satirical and affectionate about the Aussie beach experience and about our changing notions of the bronzed hero and the white nuclear family.” (Museum of Modern Art – 1994)

    Linda Slutzkin describes Charles Meere’s portrait – “Never has the Australian beach been portrayed with such vigour and energy. Far from the leisure and relaxation we expect in the depiction of our beaches…its heroic figures is more suggestive of a renaissance battle scene”. (Spartans in Speedos – 1938-40)

    Steve Meacham describes Meere’s portrait as “one of the great tableaux of Australian life. It is a powerful and idealised depiction of a beach, rather than Bondi in particular…” (SMH: Bondi – A Biography – 2005)

  3. Clare said,

    Look at Zahalka’s ‘The Bathers’ from the postmodern perspective from which it came and answer the following questions.

    Outline the postmodern features of this work.
    In the artwork ‘The Bathers’, Zahalka has appropriated the artwork ‘Australian Beach Pattern’ by Charles Meere by recontextualising it. She uses photography as her medium which is not considered a traditional art form. She also challenges mainstream audiences by the way her artwork has been formed. She uses a backdrop and staged people to convey her message of non-stereotypical Australians.

    Outline the postmodern techniques used and define them.
    Zahalka has used a variety of postmodern techniques to compose her artwork. She uses a painted backdrop and staged people and often appropriates other artworks. This is particularly true of Zahalka’s ‘The Bathers’. The way in which she has drawn from other artworks and challenged stereotypical representations of Australians is a contemporary idea and technique and in this way, challenges Meere’s artwork.

    Research all of the explicit and subtle meanings expressed through this work which are reflective of postmodern practice.
    There are various explicit and subtle meanings that are expressed throughout Zahalka’s artwork ‘The Bathers’. The colours used are very vibrant in comparison to Charles Meere’s ‘Australian Beach Pattern’. Where used there are dramatic shadows and highlights throughout the work to emphasise the white, skinny Australians. Also, a backdrop is used in the photograph and staged people. This is a contemporary technique and is not common in most artworks. By using these techniques it conveys to the audience explicit and subtle meanings

    How does this work act to alter our (the viewer’s) perceptions what it means to be ‘Australian’?
    The artwork alters the audience’s perceptions of what it means to be Australian. In typical artworks many men are depicted as strong, buff, tanned men, but in fact not all men look this way. Zahalka explores this concept throughout her artworks and challenges it. By putting white, skinny people in her artwork, it shows that not all Australians have the ‘ideal’ body. In turn, this alters the viewer’s perceptions as it makes them consider this idea and the way in which artists as well as the media stereotypes people.

  4. Kim said,

    Sigh… it’s long ><"

    – Outline the postmodern features of this work.

    By appropriating Meere’s work Zahalka has taken a post modern approach by ‘contemporising’ the picture, commenting on the our true Australian cultural status as well encouraging consideration on the Australian traditions, customs and traditions that we hold.
    By using a multicultural cast, compared to the neo-classical buff figures, she has used employed a more modern and realistic approach, thus completely replacing the ideal.
    By using a painted backdrop, staged figures and deliberate props and organisation of the scene, she has commented on the traditional process of art.
    By taking pictures of her subject, and no clear signs of her input, she has rebelled against the traditions of skill and technique of an artist, focusing on the concept and commentary of the work rather than the aesthetic value.
    She has appropriated familiar concepts – that of the beach and of Meere’s painting – and changed them in order to evoke reaction and realisation. By taking them out of the beach environment and places them in front of a painted backdrop, she has contrasted with the Meere’s original work.
    Ironically, through her use of fake set up she presents the truth, where as Meere works present a realistic depiction but far from reality.
    Zahalka has used appropriation as a technique to present her postmodern disruption of the traditional and stereotypical frame of mind. By appropriating an ‘iconic’ Australian work, her aim becomes clear as she parodies the situation by staging it and confronting the audience of a different perspective of Bondi the beach and what goes on there.
    Zahalka has made use of performance art to stage her concept. By using manikin-like actors, well-placed sets and an artificial background she comments strongly on the traditional techniques of art.
    Also, by photographing the scene, the artwork holds a realistic quality because it’s a photograph however is clearly staged and fake, thus presenting the idea of the traditions behind photography.

    • Outline the postmodern techniques used and define them.
    Zahalka has used appropriation, the action of taking something for one’s own use, and artistically, reworking other paintings (particularly well known ones) into another context through their own unique artistic practice and technique. Appropriation is mostly used to rebel against the traditions held by the painting as well as to present a new commentary or perspective on what the artwork originally represented.
    She has also used irony: seemingly deliberate composition that is contrary to what one expects resulting in, humour: comically and amusing, thus entertaining the audience whilst presenting a contemporary idea. Through irony and humour, Zahlaka satirises our society by exposing and criticizing the ‘stupidity’ or ‘foolishness’ of our traditions and false stereotypes.
    Through technology, Zahalka has utilized a modern medium of photography in order to represent her work. The modern approach further emphasises the new contemporary context, as technology is the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes to achieve something, which presently and in the future our society revolves around and develops rapidly.

    • Research all of the explicit and subtle meanings expressed through this work which are reflective of postmodern practice.
    Explicit and subtle meanings in this work include the ideas of multiculturalism, the Australian stereotypes, our Australian cultural heritage as well as the truth behind facades and the conventional. By creating the concept of commenting against the standard, conventional ideas of the Australian culture, Zahalka has taken a post-modern approach in order to portray her meanings and comments, whether subtle needing subjective investigation, or blatant messages of forcing contemplation.

    • Which theme does this work highlight?
    ‘The Bathers’ highlights the theme of Australian identity: What is the true Australian culture? What stereotypes do we portray to others that are obviously not reality? What is the truth behind our Australian identity and culture: one of abundant bronzed, Greek-reminiscent Caucasian models? Or of multicultural, physically imperfect individuals? In ‘The Bathers’, Zahalka confronts the audience to ponder about these questions as we view the ‘reality’ of our society, as obviously, Zahalka’s work, although artificially staged, is closer the truth of Australian identity than that of Meer’s picturesque, perfect representation.

    • How does this work act to alter our (the viewer’s) perceptions what it means to be ‘Australian’?
    Through Zahalka’s post modern approaches of technology, performance art, irony, humour and parody, her work alters the audience’s perceptions on what it means to be Australian, as it blatantly confronts us with an image that is closer to the truth than that of Meere’s. Although with stereotypes of buff, bronzed, Caucasian athletes, Zahalka shows through her multicultural cast that being Australian is that of multiculturalism and human individualism of flaw and imperfectness. Although less aesthetic and ‘ideal’ than Meere’s Greek god like representation of Australians, Zhalaka presents the truth in a comic, artificial situation thus appealing, to alter the viewer’s interpretations about the real Australian culture.

  5. Chelsea McDonald said,

    Charles Meere’s ‘Australian Beach Pattern’ and Zahalka’s ‘The Bathers’ have similar subject matter of numerous people at the beach doing normal beach activities. although, Zahalka’s work challenges the Charles Meeres painting by making the people look as though they are staged, creating a fake parody look. The first image shows the people on a beach, these people are all the same race, they are perfect looking, although, through zahalkas work, she introduced the different types of people such as the hairy man, the Italian looking lady and the Australian people. This seems as though it is in the post-modern frame because of the different ways in which zahalka challenged the sterio-typical way of people and appropriating them creating a sort of humour.

  6. Bree Borg said,

    There are positives and negatives to Anne Zahalka’s appropriation of Charles Meeres ‘Australian Beach Pattern’ 1940.

    ‘By presenting differing versions within the one body of work I see it as a way of addressing these visual histories, speaking through them to offer some alternative points of view’.
    Zahalka tries to capture different scenes of everyday life by also introducing new themes into earlier works.
    Another critque has stated ‘it’s a clever image. Both satirical and affectionate about the Aussie beach experience’
    This quote is saying that zahalka has challenged the audience by creating humor from an artwork that before just showed the bronzed Australian and now shows the typical Australian which is a European or white person with hair on their chest not just the brown, thin hairless man or women.

  7. Lauren said,

    yo guys~ doing question one, but some parts are missing… I’ll get back to you on that!

    Anne Zahalka homework: There are many striking similarities between Anne Zahalka’s work, ‘The Bathers’ and Charles Meere’s ‘Australian Beach Pattern’; not surprising, considering the former is a postmodern appropriation of the latter- but each image conveys its own distinctive qualities, due to the unique contexts through which each artwork was produced. Through a comparative study of these artworks, one is able to explore these juxtapositions further:

    -Visual features: ‘The Bathers’ and ‘Beach Pattern’ are very similar at least visually. For one, the subject matter conveys the common notion of ‘a day at the beach’, depicting a group of people enjoying recreational activities within this environment. In particular, the figures in Zahalka’s work have been purposefully positioned to echo ‘Beach Pattern’ and the various heroic poses Meere had painted in a neoclassical fashion, as well as particular individuals/groups within the painting being maintained in Zahalka’s version eg. Lady with the Ball, man with a towel, family group/children etc) In this way each of the images has a pervading sense of artificiality due to being specifically composed and positioned, rather than reflecting spontaneity of the moment. However a few differences are also evident- Such as the smaller group Zahalka has selected, wheras Meere’s work is crowded with people. Also, ‘The Bathers’ and ‘Beach pattern’ are different on a structural level, with their use of foreground, mid-ground and background. Zahalka has taken her subjects out of the beach environment and arranged her piece in front of a painted backdrop- the figures cannot recede very much into the space provided and as such all are situated almost at the same compositional level, reducing the images depth. Conversely, Meere’s work employs the use of all three levels, with people depicted smaller as they recede further back into the image eg. the surfer.

    -Artistic aims/intentions: Charles Meere’s intention within his work ‘Beach pattern’ was his search for perfect and formal arrangement in subject matter- overlapping figures to produce a crowd scene full of activity comparative to other paintings from the Renaissance period. His obsession with composition is evident by the counterbalancing of the figures in the painting and his need for perfection and refinement in the physical finesse and health of the male and female figures. His major intention was to capture the newfound spirit of Australia in its transformation from a convict colony to an independent democratic country. Anne Zahalka seeks to inquire into art and conventions of the past, commenting with irony on contemporary culture as well as traditional visual communication. In this manner, she applies postmodernist ideals of appropriation and parody to convey to the audience particular identity stereotypes and then subvert them, representing Australia’s modern day multicultural diversity. Her rejection of racial idealism and iconic visions of Australia are especially evident in ‘The Bathers’, in which ethnicities co-mingle in harmony and in close proximity emphasizing how Australia has become a nation of tolerance and opportunity for all of its diverse citizens.

    -meanings: Both of the artworks possess the similar intention of exhibiting the Australian national pastime of spending a day at the beach, symbolic of the freedom and classless equality of our nation and the identity of Australian society. However, each artists conveys an identity that is conflicting with the other- for example, Charles Meere’s ‘Beach pattern’ expresses the spirit of post-world war two Australia in depicting the stereotypical Australian- an athletic, herculean, and sun-tanned Anglo-Saxton orientated beach culture. In this way, his work possesses a highly patriotic feel, designed to proudly remind the audience of the Australian ideal to be defended at this time of conflict and instill a sense of morale and pride in the viewer, as well as a sense of safety conveyed by the strong and brave demeanor of the men in this image, whom are willing and able to fight for freedom and lifestyle privileges enjoyed by Australian citizens. Conversely, Anne Zahalka’s work conveys the changing orientation and values of Australian Society. ‘The Bathers’ also features Australian men and women, but conversely depicts the multicultural identity of contemporary Australian society through the various ethnicities of her figures rather than the singular nationality branded as the iconic Australian. She also portrays the natural imperfection of the human body- eg. The bodily hair of the male figure, in comparison to the hairless Adonis of Meere’s central figure. It is also interesting to note Zahalka’s presentation of changing roles within society- the growing prominence of female authority and empowerment evident in the way the central male of Meere’s work is replaced with the powerful female holding a ball.


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