Dušan and Voitre Marek: Surrealists at sea
Art Gallery of South Australia
Dušan (1926-1993) and Voitre (1919-1999) Marek proved their artistic talent from a young age. The Czechoslovakian woods of Northern Bohemia provided a playground for creative inspiration
where the brothers, who were two of three sons born to Hermina Marek and Vojtěch Marek, could expand their extraordinary imaginations and manifest their understanding of the world around them through creative expression; Dušan sketched, and Voitre found inspiration carving into wood and rocks.
Hermina and Vojtěch provided a loving home where their children’s interests in art, music and literature were nurtured, and explorations of philosophy and spirituality were encouraged.
Later in Prague, after World War I, amid a flourishing avant-garde community of artists, writers, poets, musicians, intellectuals, and others in the arts, Dušan and Voitre discovered Surrealism, a revolutionary art movement that brought dream-like realities of the unconscious mind into the open with recondite visual clarity; unfathomable to some and beautifully compelling to others,
and a turning point for the development of both Dušan and Voitre’s artistic oeuvres.
Dušan and Voitre fled the bearing down of a communist regime in a daring escape over the Czech-German border, where they were taken safely to a displaced persons’ camp at Dillenburg
in March of 1948. By August that same year, Dušan and Voitre embarked on a journey by sea to start a new life in Australia. Two of Dušan’s paintings, The Voyage (1948) and Birth of Love (1948), rendered on found (actually stolen) pieces of plywood, which the artist has admitted taking from the beds at Dillenburg, pose an important part of the brother’s migration to Australia, and are today part of the Art Gallery of South Australia’s (AGSA) rich collection of around 100 works by the artists, which are currently on show as part of the major survey exhibition of over 200 works on view in ‘Surrealists at sea’ at AGSA until 12 September 2021.
The subtle cloth-bound cover of this publication offers no visual cue to the intrigue that unfolds between its pages nor the exquisitely reproduced imagery of Dušan and Voitre’s drawings,
paintings, sculptures, puppetry, jewellery, and ecclesiastical art, that these remarkable vanguard surrealist artists produced over decades of their lives and practice, and who are only now
receiving the greater level of attention they deserve.
Eleven contributors, including the late Vera Marek, present insightful essays and investigations across three major themes: The Voyage, The Islands and The Deep. Among them, Cheri
Donaldson explores Dušan and Voitre’s formative years; Brendan Casey takes a plunge into the artist’s voyage notebooks, and Curator Maria Zagala’s emphasis points mainly to drawings
from 1939-1945. Editor Elle Freak unpacks the negative press and censorship of Dušan and Voitre’s work in Australia and how the impact of the criticisms led to Dušan taking leave to New
Guinea and Voitre’s job as lighthouse keeper on Kangaroo Island. Arthur Cantrill AM turns to Dušan’s surrealist film and animations from the 1950s to the ’70s, and Ralph Body covers Voitre’s commissioned works for schools and churches in Australia.
Kirsty Francis is an arts writer based in Sydney.